Shelby foundation to raise cyberbullying awareness during annual event

By: Kara Szymanski | Shelby - Utica News | Published September 9, 2019

 Kevin Epling, a guest speaker on anti-bullying, will be speaking at the Shelby Community Foundation’s eighth annual fall luncheon Oct. 4 at the Shelby Gardens Banquet and Events Hall in Shelby Township.

Kevin Epling, a guest speaker on anti-bullying, will be speaking at the Shelby Community Foundation’s eighth annual fall luncheon Oct. 4 at the Shelby Gardens Banquet and Events Hall in Shelby Township.

Photo provided by Kevin Epling

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SHELBY TOWNSHIP — In an ongoing effort to raise awareness and prevent bullying, a local foundation is inviting the community to attend a presentation on cyberbullying at its annual fall luncheon Oct. 4 in Shelby Township.

The Shelby Community Foundation’s event is a kickoff to National Anti-Bullying Month in October.

The luncheon will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Shelby Gardens Banquet and Events Hall in Shelby Township and will feature two guest speakers who are well-known for their efforts to end bullying: state Sen. Pete Lucido and Kevin Epling.

Lucido will be speaking on the new Michigan cyberbullying law he authored that strengthens the definition of cyberbullying and its penalties. Kevin Epling will speak on how he became heavily involved in anti-bullying efforts after his son took his own life.

Epling is an East Lansing resident who helps raise awareness about the attitudes and the culture surrounding bullying, hazing and harassment in local schools.

“If your school says we don’t have a problem, there is definitely a problem. If they cannot provide records of what they have been doing to meet the letter of the law (since 2010), then there is a really big problem,” said Epling.

In 2002, Epling’s son, Matt, was hazed by a group of upperclassmen on his last day of eighth grade. Matt was a popular kid who was into BMX biking and writing poetry, and was voted to have the “best smile” in the middle school yearbook. He was lured from his house to a nearby park by a friend when high school students pounced on him around the corner, smashing eggs and pouring syrup on him and letting him know in no uncertain terms that he was no longer a hotshot middle schooler, but a lowly freshman.

A little over a month later, the night before he was set to talk to the police, Matt killed himself.

In the past, bullying wasn’t treated how it is today. Epling said he was initially told it’s just kids being kids. He has since worked to raise the nation’s consciousness about the importance of taking bullying seriously.

“It’s not about laws and policies; it’s about getting schools to actually follow through and do what their own policies state. Inform parents about OK2SAY and how it needs to be a mandatory program in every Michigan school, and relay the success rate it has had,” he said.

OK2SAY is a state program that allows students to report tips confidentially regarding potentially harmful or criminal behavior.

“It’s also not about money, which is the first excuse of our schools. It is about attitude, a common vision and long-term goals for not only a school, but a district,” Epling said.

He said he recently did a story with the Lansing State Journal and found that most schools are not currently following their own policies.

“The biggest thing is that adults today need to understand that bullying today is nothing like it was when they were kids. Students today are tied to their technology, and simply taking a phone away does not solve the issue. It can actually exacerbate the issue.”

Epling is also the national co-cirector and Michigan representative for Bully Police USA and has appeared on many news outlets and syndicated radio and TV programs talking about anti-bullying.

“Bully Police USA was formed by Brenda High in 2002 after her son Jared took his life after a bullying incident. The concept was to look at state laws about bullying, which at the time very few states had laws, and advocate for them from a parent’s perspective,” he said.

“Michigan was the 48th state to pass a law, and currently every state does have a law on bullying. Mostly they require schools to have policies and give reports to the state,” he said.

Epling said he has been talking on this issue for 17 years now.

“So much has changed and so much has stayed the same. We hit our peak for prevention in about 2014, and I feel we’ve been sliding backwards in the last several years,” he said.

Along with his wife, Tammy, they succeeded in passing anti-bullying legislation named the Matt Epling Safe School Law in Michigan to require bullying prevention policies in Michigan’s schools.

In 2011, Epling was one of only 150 people invited to the White House for the first presidential summit on bullying.

“I think anytime that we can gather people, parents, teachers, administrators and especially students to talk openly and honestly about the issue of bullying — cyberbullying is bullying just done through technology and different techniques — we can start to think about changing our attitudes on how to address it and set forth a long-term plan to curb the issue,” said Epling.

“I am a firm believer that we can never stop bullying, but we can do a lot to prevent it.”

Kim Enders, a chairperson for the Shelby Community Foundation, said the foundation strongly supports bullying awareness and is hosting the event in hopes of finding solutions.

“The Shelby Community Foundation, and in particular our Women’s Fund, support awareness, information and possible solutions to an ever-evolving challenge with regards to cyberbullying. This event intends to reveal more about it and how to combat it,” said Enders.

She also said a grant will be awarded to a nonprofit group.

“A grant will be awarded to Know Resolve (knowresolve.org), a youth suicide prevention nonprofit group who provides support, awareness and prevention education to the community on this topic,” said Enders.

During the event, there will be a silent auction.

Tickets to the event cost $30 per person and can be purchased via credit card on the foundation website, www.shelbycommunityfoundation.org, or checks can be made out to SCF-Women’s Luncheon and mailed to P.O. Box 183181, Shelby Township, MI 48318.

Registration is required by Sept. 23.

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