Monday, December 31, 2012

A Reason to Skip One Day of Starbucks

As the Executive Director of the Monique Burr Foundation for Children, I am honestly overwhelmed and humbled by the progress we have made this year implementing our Speak Up Be Safe™ bullying and child abuse prevention program in elementary schools across Florida.  We expect to serve 400% more students than we did last school year.  Those 450,000 students attend the Monique Burr Foundation’s Speak Up Be Safe program in 47 out of 67 counties across the state.  (Don’t worry; we are working hard on the additional 20 counties who have not approved Speak Up Be Safe yet.) 

I think about media stories on child abuse and the horrific results from long term bullying that have caught our attention over the past year.  Some of those stories happening right here in Florida.   I don’t know a single person who didn’t hang their head when this kind of news hit the airwaves, and yet despite a nation full of concern, we are still struggling to raise funds to provide this preventative program in our public schools at no cost to the school.  We talk about these stories with ease, but at $2 a student, I wonder if our program would have changed the news.

As funds permit, we can and are implementing control features to keep our children, schools, and communities safer.  School counselors and teachers have expressed gratitude for a program that helps them teach students how to be safe against all forms of abuse and bullying at no cost to them.  Parents now have tools they didn’t even know they needed to communicate with their kids about topics that are not always comfortable but necessary.

Studies validate our approach and verify that the program content is age appropriate.  Our team of 7 employees is already working on updates to our Speak Up Be Safe program for the 2013 – 2014 school year.  We want to include the most current information about cyberbullying and bullying prevention along with developing fun interactive tools to reinforce lessons learned in the classroom.  We have also partnered with Lauren’s Kids who provides the “Safer, Smarter Kids” program for VPK – Kindergarten students. 

With all this work going on, I’m known to make a Starbucks run every now and then.  Around the holidays, I chose a Gingerbread latte… the Grande is $4.58.  It costs MBF only $2 to provide instruction and materials to a student in our state.  My coffee would pay for two students with a little left over.

Currently, we do not receive any state funding to supplement the cost of these programs.  And while it seems so simple at $2 per student, we still struggle to raise enough to meet our state’s need. In this New Year, would you be willing to step up as our kids speak up?  At the expense of one cup of Starbucks, you can provide the Speak Up Be Safe program to a student.  If you can’t forego the coffee, at a minimum “like” us on Facebook, visit our website and educate yourself on what we’re doing even if you do not have children or grandchildren.  Chances are, we’re in your community and we’re making a difference.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 28, 2012

My Recent Wake Up Call

Twice last week I left my twelve year old and ten and a half year old alone after school for a few hours. No different than other weeks, and not unlike parents of millions of children around the country, I consider them old enough to be home safely, following my established safety rules and with neighbors nearby in case of emergencies, until I get home just a few hours later.

So you can probably imagine my surprise when twice last week I received phone calls that each of them had opened the door for strangers, service call personnel, who luckily were nice people that turned and left our home upon learning from the girls that I was not home. 

What I know is that this could have turned out very differently. If either of these individuals were bad people, pedophiles, ill intentioned, or worse, my kids might not be in the other room right now. I am very thankful that it turned out well.

I am also thankful for the reminder that kids need ongoing safety and prevention education. Honestly, I haven’t talked to my kids about our safety rules in a while. Maybe I think because of what I do for a living they somehow “get it” and I don’t need to have those continual conversations with them. I learned last week I was very wrong, and I hope every parent that reads this post will learn from my recent “wake up” that they also need to have those continual conversations with their own kids.

We hear it said over and over, “adults are responsible for keeping kids safe,” and we agree completely. But we also know we can’t be with them 24/7 so we must educate and empower them to help protect themselves. And we do that by talking to them and teaching them. Not once, not a few times, but continuously.

If we all work together – parents, schools, and community members – we can be very effective at teaching them and protecting them. The Speak Up Be Safe™ (SUBS) program works to do just that - educate and empower children. It teaches elementary students about personal safety, bullying and child abuse prevention starting in first grade and reinforces and builds upon learning skills every year. The program has multiple sessions, and the curriculum concepts are reinforced by teachers and parents with activities and learning strategies designed to foster ongoing communication and continued learning for kids.

The strategies used in SUBS can be used by all of us in our every day lives to better protect our kids.  We can teach our kids important safety concepts, start young, reinforce skills previously taught and build upon them as our kids get older.  Most importantly, we can continue the conversations and learning activities day after day, week after week, and month after month as opportunities present themselves and as we learn things our kids need to know to educate and empower them to better protect themselves.

Some things are blessings in disguise I suppose. I guess it’s time for me to get busy talking about these things with my kids. You too maybe? Not sure what to say? Keep following our blog and we’ll give you some ideas in upcoming posts!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Season's Greetings from your MBF Team

Season’s greetings friends. I’m Ed Burr, Founder and President of the Board at the Monique Burr Foundation for Children, Inc. We would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and in doing so spend a few moments reflecting on the gifts we have been given as an organization this past year… our facilitators and schools that have implemented our Speak Up Be Safe™ bullying and child abuse prevention program, our donors and sponsors, volunteers, and our terrific team.  Each of our team members brings so much to our foundation and our program and we thought it was a great time for them to share a bit about themselves and what they think is important about our work.

Lynn Layton – Executive Director
Greetings!  I am Lynn Layton, the executive director of the foundation, wife of Glenn Layton and mom to Clark Fouraker and Mallory Layton.  I have been with the foundation for five years.  I have the honor of working with Ed, our Board of Directors, and our team to help protect children from bullying and child abuse.  I am blessed with the love of my Savior, my family, my friends and the continued success and provisions that we receive to allow our work to continue.  Speak Up Be Safe is provided to public elementary schools at no cost to the school through the help of our donors and grants we receive; we hope to keep it that way! 

My prevention wish this season is that as a country, we can stop for a few minutes, put down our electronic devices and actually have eye contact with our children to help them understand that communicating with each other is best when done with our voices and not our fingers.  Teaching kids that instant response is not necessary and that patience is a virtue is a wonderful gift we can give children this season. 

In fact, there a lot of gifts we adults have to offer children, such as honest conversations.  The world can be a scary place and children need to know that adults are there to help keep them safe.  We need to get over being uncomfortable talking about scary topics because if we don’t talk to them, someone else will and most likely, they will share harmful or incorrect information.  We can get involved and ask our child’s school what prevention programs they offer students.  We can “show up” for our children – get educated, be aware, talk to them often, and advocate for safety and prevention.  Merry Christmas and Best Wishes for a safe and informed 2013!

Amy Raymond – Administrative Assistant
Cheers!  I’m Amy and I have been with the Foundation for one year in my position with the goal of supporting the team to fulfill our vision.  It’s a great time of year for individuals, families, and organizations to reflect upon their successes and ongoing goals.  Every day working in this field brings new challenges, but with it great rewards. During my time here, my eyes have been opened to the risks our children face on a daily basis; however, I’ve learned that what we do at the Foundation literally changes children’s lives for the better.  My wish this holiday season is that every caregiver recognizes the importance of expressing love and taking the time to nurture children – and not just during the holidays, but every day.  This is the core of what creates healthy, happy kids and promotes a safe and healthy community.

Cori Wilson – Finance/Data Manager
Hi, I’m Cori Wilson, I manage all things data related at MBF and at home I manage a four-year old little boy. I'd like to share with you what I consider a cause for celebration this Christmas, our work at MBF.  For some reason, be it ignorance, fear, or disbelief, I see the reality of bullying and child abuse largely ignored during most people’s every day lives.  Parents teach their children to hold their hands when crossing the street, but they forget to teach them to talk to them if they feel scared or confused. However, MBF is changing that for the children in Florida, and I am proud to celebrate every success along the way with our team and our supporters.

Each lesson I learn as a parent, to me is a cause to celebrate as I consider it another way my child will grow up safer and better protected. I have learned as a parent of a four year old to not let my fears influence my tongue, because I have learned if we don’t talk to our children, someone else will. When my child brings up a scary subject it is tempting to change the subject, but I now know I must face the issue head on. I give him the truth, with reasons and reassuring love.  He comes out of the conversation with a greater understanding of the world around him, and he learns he can always come to me with questions.  I hope our knowledge and learning at MBF will help you as parents in your efforts to protect your children and give you cause to celebrate this holiday season and year-round!

Mary McDonald – Program Manager
Hi, I’m Mary, a Guardian Ad Litem volunteer and mom of two.  One of the most important lessons I’ve learned working for MBF and talking to all of our facilitators is that kids need people they can talk to about the really tough topics that they come across in their every day lives, things like needing to know what to do and what to say when faced with peer pressure. They need to know they have someone to talk to about the “sensitive” topics (everything from - when kids laugh or make fun of others to what to do when someone presents them with inappropriate photos, or alcohol or drugs).  These are all things that they will be confronted with and we need to help them be ready when they are put into those situations.  We work very hard to create great resources on our website that you can use to help you have these conversations with kids.  So this Christmas when the kids are on school break, spend a little time learning more about these topics and about how to have these conversations and then spend some time talking to your children.  It might not be the traditional way to spend your Christmas break but it truly is one of the most important things you can do to help your kids have a safer day every day in the New Year. Happy Holidays. I hope you have a great Christmas with your family.

Callie Criser – Communications & Development Manager
Hi, I'm Callie Criser and I coordinate our events, fundraising efforts, and social media sites.  I've been with the Foundation 2 1/2 years and am recently engaged and planning the wedding of my dreams… and since I love events, I am enjoying every minute of it! I did not know much about child abuse or bullying until I started here… I never knew anyone who was bullied or abused – but AWARE is the key word.  I grew up in a small town and went to a very sheltered school that didn't speak of these things.  I have since learned 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused by the age of 18 and I know abuse and bullying happens everywhere, even if we are not aware it is happening.

Being the communications manager, I know that bullying and child abuse have become easier because of technology.  With so many children getting technology gifts this holiday season, I hope that parents will teach their children how to use them appropriately and safely.  Technology is a wonderful thing, but it can also be very dangerous.  I encourage everyone to check out our Facebook page and Blog for tips, stories and resources about this topic and for additional safety information as well throughout the year. Happy Holidays to you and your loved ones!

Cierra Bennet – Finance/Data Assistant
Hello everyone! My name is Cierra Bennett and I am the newest member of the MBF team.  I feel like I learn something new everyday and I’d like to share with you what I think are the real gifts of Christmas: family, friends, and the children in our lives that make the holidays much brighter!

Working at MBF has taught me how all of us can truly make a difference by being proactive to protect children. Kids are faced with tough situations everyday like being bystanders to bullying for example, and often we can help them, but only if kids are educated and empowered to help adults keep them safe. Give the kids in your life the gift of safety education this holiday season; look for every possible opportunity to communicate with them about safety issues and be available for them when they want to talk to you about their concerns. Here are a few tips I've learned while working at MBF:
  • Look for everyday opportunities to ask them questions about their day, and ask open-ended questions, like “What is something that you would like to talk about your day today?” or “Was there anything unusual that happened today?” 
  • Take opportunities to talk about the events that are going on around you that you may see on the news or that kids may ask about.
  • During these conversations, take the time to follow up on anything that concerns you with additional questions and discuss strategies kids can use if they are in or see unsafe situations.
This is just a start and you can learn more on our website and blog, but I hope you will take this opportunity to begin being proactive about communication and safety education with the children in your lives. Happy Holidays and here's to a New Year filled with many great conversations about safety issues between you and your kids.

Stacy Pendarvis – Education & Research Director
Season’s Greeting! I'm Stacy Pendarvis and the mother of 3.  I've been with the Foundation for 2 years and worked in the field of prevention for over 17 years.  I love every minute of working to protect children, and I love working for MBF; I am also the main writer of the Speak Up Be Safe Florida blog and it’s one of the things about my job I love the most.  But what I would really love to see this holiday season (and after this year of such powerful and negative media coverage) is every single person in our country involved to some degree in the effort to protect children from bullying and maltreatment, because everyone can do something. Awareness is great and I think people know the problems exist, but they do not act for whatever reason – maybe apathy or lack of knowledge about what to do.  However, AWARENESS WITH ACTION = PREVENTION!  So I hope everyone reading this will make it one of your resolutions in the New Year to learn more and do more to protect kids!  Keep reading the blog and our MBF Facebook page throughout the New Year for easy ideas on how to incorporate prevention into your everyday life.  Wishing all the best to you and yours in the New Year.  Merry Christmas!

Just as The Monique Burr Foundation for Children, Inc. was founded in 1997 as a way to carry on the work of my late wife, Monique Burr, a passionate child advocate, you can see our team and our organization epitomizes the work that Monique did in protecting children.  Our Speak Up Be Safe™ bullying and child abuse prevention program and everything we do is dedicated to educating and empowering adults and children with one goal in mind, keeping kids safe.  Our team works hard every day, all year to make sure children, parents, schools and communities have the tools and resources they need to protect children.

It is a gift to be able to educate and give back to the community, it is a gift to know what we are doing is helping to protect children every day, it is a gift to work with such a hardworking and dedicated team that is truly making a difference in children’s lives – and it is a gift to continue the legacy of Monique Burr. 

Merry Christmas to you, your children, and your loved ones from all of us at the Monique Burr Foundation for Children!

Edward Burr

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Preventing Violence in Schools and Elsewhere – What Will it Take?

As a nation, we have mourned together this week after the shooting in Newtown, CT where 20 young students and 6 adults lost their lives. I’m sure I am no different than anyone who has read all the various posts on Facebook. Many have been an outpouring of support and comfort for those left behind to grieve but others are seeking to place the blame on something, in an effort to find some measure of understanding and make sense of this senseless tragedy.

I don’t think we can ever truly make sense of tragedies such as this, and it’s much too soon to really know the reasons why this fairly young boy himself walked into Sandy Hook Elementary that morning and took the lives of all those innocent people.

I would think every school shooter, or perpetrator of similar type of violence, is probably motivated by and for different reasons. I seem to be reading a few main discussions, however, as causes and/or ways to prevent such violence from happening again, such as gun control, media and video game restrictions and increased school protection. Who knows if gun control would have prevented the tragedy on that terrible day? Maybe he would have gotten a gun anyway. Or maybe he would have made a different type of weapon even without a gun. And whether research shows negative consequences to children in general or not, do we really know if media or video games impacted this particular child in a negative way prior to that terrible morning? I have yet to hear if he ever played a video game in his life. And locking schools apparently isn’t an effective security measure as this school’s doors were locked 20 minutes prior to him entering the school on that morning.

Again, I know it’s hard to make sense of something so senseless and people are just trying to understand something that is so illogical. But what I haven’t read and what does make sense is knowing and understanding that despite the fact that this young man, the shooter, did something so unimaginable, so heinous, so evil, that he himself must have been suffering from something unimaginable to walk into a school and take the lives of so many innocent people – especially 20 children. As a society, until we focus on that issue, that suffering, and that area of prevention, we will never be truly focusing on the prevention of school and community violence and these kinds of events are likely to keep happening.

The task force report presented to the Attorney General this week reported on the need for children to grow up in homes with safe, stable, nurturing relationships, without exposure to trauma, domestic violence, mental illness, substance abuse, etc. If we have any hope that children will grow up and not become young adults that commit these types of heinous, senseless acts, it is incumbent upon each of us as adults, as parents, as citizens to be a part of the village that raises children within these safe, stable, nurturing relationships. For more information visit

Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of all the victims of this and all tragedies of school and community violence. We long for the day when there are no more innocent victims and no more perpetrators who have suffered from something devastating enough in their past to somehow feel that this was an answer to end their own pain.

For anyone suffering, there is help. For anyone interested in prevention, there is information available.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network is the best place to start and they have compiled many of their resources into one location in response to the recent shooting.

The Centers for Disease Control/Injury Center on Violence Prevention has many resources available on this topic. Please visit their website and learn more about preventing youth violence, school violence and more.  Here are some links: