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April 16, 2014

Banding together to banish bullying

By Elizabeth Scussel
C & G Staff Writer

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Sixth-grade teachers Amy Orlando, of Bloomfield Hills, and Kelly Casaccio, of Chicago, just launched a Kickstarter campaign for their anti-bully bands, Chummies.

BLOOMFIELD HILLS — Sixth-grade teachers Amy Orlando, of Bloomfield Hills, and Kelly Casaccio, of Chicago, set out on a mission in March of 2013.

“There’s a dire need in our country for kids to become more inclusive and accepting, which in turn will help get rid of bullying,” Casicco said. “We need to put the power in the kids’ hands. You can’t just look at a child and say, ‘Don’t bully.’ That’s not a lesson. You have to give kids the ownership. You have to teach them why it’s important to include and accept one another, and how much greater life can be when we get to know all different types of people.

“As teachers, we observed what made our students excited. We realized they were infatuated with anything that could be collected or shared with friends. With friendship jewelry, the problem was that you could only share the other half with one person. We saw the need for something kids could share and collect, and also send a positive message.”

With these things in mind, the two created Chummies — vibrantly colored, interlocking friendship bracelets meant to highlight individuality and send the positive message of inclusion and anti-bullying.

“The idea behind Chummies is that we want kids to embrace one another so people who are different from them can help enrich their lives,” Casaccio said. “You never know what someone can bring into your life until you give them a chance and accept them for who they are.”

The bracelets are sold in coordinating pairs — Peanut Butter and Jelly, Guitar and Amplifier, Sneaker and High Heel, and Macaroni and Cheese — to help complement unique personalities.

A portion of Chummies sales are donated to PACER’S National Bullying Prevention Center and Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation to support the anti-bullying cause and spread awareness about tolerance and acceptance.

“I remember the prevalence of bullying when I was in school. It was bad enough then, but it is even worse now,” Orlando said. “We want to move forward with this. We want to make a difference in this world, but we cannot do it alone.”

Chummies are now available in more than 35 boutiques and stores around the country, including Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Kentucky.

With the success of Chummies’ first year, the two ladies decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign focused on growing the line of products with new molds, designs and displays — from four-packs of bands to glitter and tie-dye.

This fall, Orlando and Casaccio hope to implement a Band Against Bullying campaign in local schools by using Chummies as a fundraising tool. Districts will be able to purchase the bands at wholesale prices, sell them to students and use the profits for various school programs.

“My motivation is the kids and the idea that I can make a difference in a child’s life. In business, and in teaching, it is the innocence, the energy, the smiles and the incredible things that they teach me daily that have driven me. With Chummies, I want them to see each other the way I see them — as beautiful, unique individuals who can do anything that they believe in,” Casaccio said. “If we can educate our youth about inclusion and truly open up their minds to people with varying interests and personalities, bullying will begin to decrease.”

As a new mother, Orlando recognizes the importance of setting a good example for her daughter and instilling the importance of acceptance.

“(Casaccio) and I have given so much to this cause. I want to show my daughter the importance of perseverance,” she said. “We will not give up.”

For more information on Chummies or to donate to the Kickstarter campaign, visit www.mychummies.com.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Elizabeth Scussel at escussel@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1037.