The We Step Up workshops offered by JMF offer proactive approach that empowers students of all ages to become upstanders and advocates for themselves and their peers while demonstrating acceptance and respect.

At the Joseph Maley Foundation, we believe in the power of connection.  Whether it is the natural way our programs intersect, or the opportunity to foster new relationships that promote acceptance and inclusion for all abilities, we know nurturing these connections makes our community a stronger one.

One way JMF continues to bridge a multitude of connections is through our We Step Up (WSU) workshop.  We Step Up was initially created in 2012. Candy Lang, a JMF Board member, approached Vivian Maley with the idea to train and empower current Junior Board students to be individuals who actively demonstrate “leadership through acceptance” in their own school communities.  Following their training, Junior Board members would then facilitate WSU workshops for seventh and eighth graders, in turn empowering them to be upstanders and role models for younger students in their own school.

This peer-to-peer model remains one of the most unique aspects of  We Step Up.  As Candy said, “A program that is student-led and creatively delivered is going to be much more effective than having one of us in the front of the room lecturing about being nice to one another.”  The peer-leadership component of WSU is tied closely to JMF’s belief of what it means to serve others.  Just as our Service Day program participants give back to their community through volunteering, WSU leaders serve their peers by pledging to step up and advocate for acceptance of individuals of all abilities.

Sunday, October 1 marks the beginning of National Bullying Prevention Month, as well as Mental Health Awareness Week.  The proactive nature of the We Step Up workshop makes it particularly well-poised to address the issues surrounding bullying and its negative effects.

Almost a quarter of the middle school students surveyed by the Centers for Disease Control in 2015 reported at least one instance of being cyber-bullied.  Students who are bullied are at an increased risk for anxiety and depression.  However, when students feel that they have at least one connection to someone, such as another student or WSU mentor, those numbers start to drop.

JMF consistently customizes and updates our program offerings to best meet the needs of our community—the evolution of WSU is a perfect example of that.  We Step Up workshops will now be housed under our power of youth program.  This new youth leadership development program includes our existing Junior Board, as well as mentoring and internship possibilities.  We Step Up workshops will continue to support the HOPE program, but will also have increased flexibility to offer the workshops in conjunction with all other JMF programs, including disABILITY Awareness.

The power of connection often starts with acceptance.  By promoting and teaching acceptance of all abilities, We Step Up  speaks to the connection that we have with each other, as well as the ways in which all JMF programs are closely connected to “serve children of all abilities.”

Post written by:

Courtney Basso

Events and Communication Director