Unity Day events to highlight the power of kindness

— Created October 11, 2023 by Kathy Reed

Unity Day events to highlight the power of kindness

By Kathy Reed

October is National Bullying Prevention Month and the Whidbey Island nonprofit, Positively Linked, is hoping to bring the community together Saturday to celebrate Unity Day.

Activities this year will feature a Unity Day Walk at 1 p.m., beginning and ending at the pop-up plaza at the corner of Dock Street and SE Pioneer Way in downtown Oak Harbor. Everyone is encouraged to put on some comfy walking shoes and to wear orange as a way to show support for those who have been bullied. There is no cost to attend.

“This is our first time doing a Unity Day walk,” Constance Mollerstuen, founder and executive director of Positively Linked, told Whidbey Weekly via email. “Each year we will continue to grow and expand the activities and walking path. For this year, we will have a booth with resources and an area to make a ‘Kindness Chain.’ A ‘Kindness Chain’ is a linked chain made out of orange paper. We ask everyone to write down something they can do to show kindness to someone else. Then [we will] link all of the papers together to see how long of a chain we can make, which will show while one person can speak out against bullying by sharing kindness, our message is much stronger when we come together.”

Even the color orange holds special significance for why participants are encouraged to wear it for Saturday’s walk.

“Unity Day is celebrated in October, and orange is a color commonly identified with the month and the autumn season,” Mollerstuen said. “It is also a color that is associated with safety and visibility. It is a color described as warm and inviting, and its vibrancy makes an impactful statement.”

Unity Day is a campaign begun by the PACER National Bullying Prevention Center. Mollerstuen said the    idea behind the day is to help unite communities and to educate and raise awareness of bullying prevention.

“Historically, bullying had been viewed as ‘a childhood rite of passage’ that ‘made kids tougher,’ but the reality has always been that bullying can leave devastating and often long-term effects such as a loss of self-esteem, increased anxiety, and depression for those involved,” she explained. “This initiative has helped shift thinking away from bullying as a ‘rite of passage’ and toward the knowledge that bullying can be prevented and stopped through education and awareness.

“Positively Linked felt it was important to start a Unity Day event in our community because there are continued problems with bullying in school, which over the last few years has led to an increase in violence by youth in our community,” Mollerstuen continued. “Our own children, grandchildren and young people that we work with do not feel safe in school. When you don’t feel safe, you can’t learn. Speaking out shows an investment in keeping all young people safe from hurt, harm, and humiliation. We hope to promote change.”

Bullying is a widespread problem in the U.S. According to Mollerstuen, about one in five high school students report being bullied on school property and more than one out of every six high school students reported being bullied electronically within the last year.

Island County is no exception to the bullying problem. Mollerstuen noted in the 2021 Washington Healthy Youth Survey, 36 percent of 6th graders and 33 percent of 8th graders in Island County reported being bullied within the last 30 days. Fifteen percent of the 10th graders and 16 percent of the 12th graders surveyed also reported being bullied within the last 30 days.

Even higher were the reports of Adverse Childhood Experiences, or potentially traumatic events caused by bullying incidents. Sixty-three percent of Island County 8th grade, 44 percent of 10th grade and 57 percent of 12th grade students surveyed reported having one or more Adverse Childhood Experiences, Mollerstuen shared.

“Bullying is a serious problem that affects the lives of countless children and adults,” she said. “No one should have to feel unsafe or threatened by someone else, but it happens all too often in our society. While bullying can manifest itself in many different forms, the effects it has on an individual are always significant. From mental health issues to decreased self-esteem and even perpetuating cycles of further bullying behavior, the consequences of bullying can have long-lasting and damaging impacts.”

But there are things people can do to help recognize and reduce the bullying problem and its potentially devastating effects, and it’s simpler than one might think.

“Something everyone can do on a daily basis to curb the bullying problem is to be kinder,” said Mollerstuen. “Treat people the way you would like to be treated. Kindness has been shown to increase self-esteem, empathy and compassion, and improve mood. It can decrease blood pressure and cortisol, a hormone directly correlated with stress levels. People who give of themselves in a balanced way also tend to be healthier and live longer.”

Mollerstuen said it’s important youth learn advocacy and self-advocacy skills, which can empower them to help prevent bullying they see or experience, ask others to get involved, express disagreement respectfully, offer their opinions with confidence and make a positive difference for themselves and others. She suggests those interested in learning more about that download PACER’s Student Action Plan Template to get started: PACER.org/publications/bullypdf/BP-25.pdf.

“Sometimes kids bully, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t change,” she said. “That’s because bullying is about behavior, it’s about words and actions—not about who they are.”

That seems to fit well with Positively Linked’s mission, which is to “nurture, empower and transform the lives of youth, their families and individuals through prevention, education and support.” Learn more at positivelylinked.org. Learn more about Unity Day at www.pacer.org/bullying/nbpm/spreadtheword/promote-unity-day.asp.

“We hope that people participate in our Unity Day walk Saturday at 1 p.m. because bullying prevention is a community issue, and it takes all of us to create change,” encouraged Mollerstuen.