FREE2LUV is standing up to bullying — and winning
You saved my life. Literally.
These were words they were proud to read. Moved to read. But words they hope are never necessary.
Tonya and Kym Sandis, partners in business, love and life, cherish the written letter from Eddie*, the boy who is still breathing because of them. The boy who questioned his sexuality, something that came natural to him as it does to millions of people the world over, but was being bullied for it.
The boy who at one point, said he couldn’t take it anymore. That life wasn’t worth the pain.
“We continued to be there for him,” Tonya says. “Telling him he was perfect and that he was meant to be on this planet and that he’s so important to the lives of so many. He broke through and continued to thrive and tell his story.”
This is just one of several success stories Tonya and Kym’s anti-bullying nonprofit, Free2Luv®, can share. Based in Seattle and founded in 2011, Free2Luv, Fresh Words Market’s most recent nonprofit partner, has won awards for its work and its reach has expanded faster than a bullied child’s heart can drop.
Free2Luv’s work is about lifting those hearts. To help those who feel that not only are their walls are caving in, but they were never built to protect them. That they weren’t made to love or to be loved.
“It’s hard to wrap my brain around that,” Tonya says, “especially as a parent, that these young kids feel they have nowhere to turn.”
Free2Luv, its avid Youth Advocates and Celebrity Ambassadors are here to tell those in pain that the opposite is true. That just because the skies are dark, it doesn’t mean the sun and its light aren’t behind them. That every, single piece of them is filled with wonder. And magic.
“We created our Advocacy program to provide youth a safe platform to express themselves when they may feel they have nowhere else to turn,” Tonya says. “Cyberbullying is a growing epidemic leaving children feeling vulnerable online. Our goal is create a virtual environment where kids can interact, share their stories and lift each other up. We’re proud to have created a virtual Free2Luv family.”
Free2Luv’s staff found that when these young advocates tell their stories, it strengthens their once-weakened souls and empowers others. It helps people who once felt so lonely realize they were never alone at all.
“Our mission is to take the bullied to brave,” Tonya says. “Once they feel empowered, they become a shining star in someone else’s life who is going through a difficult time. So it becomes cyclical. Out of all the good we do, this is one of our proudest accomplishments.”
“Often, when kids are being bullied, two things happen: No. 1 the person bullying them is most likely going through something themselves — not that that makes it OK, but it opens their eyes to a different way of seeing that situation. And No. 2, most often, the person being bullied, what they’re being bullied for is actually a strength and an asset. So when you approach a child being bullied from this perspective, it allows them to grow and gain insight from a painful experience. Kids who were once shy and felt like they didn’t have a voice, feel empowered to go on and do some really cool stuff.”
Once-bullied children who Free2Luv helped are now using their talents and voices to spread the good will. They’re using music to empower others, organizing community walks and events to sign on hundreds to Free2Luv’s anti-bullying pledge. Some have even featured on their local news.
“These kids had no idea they had the power to do that,” Tonya says.
Through Free2Luv’s community outreach, over 61,000 people have taken their online anti-bullying pledge promising to use their voices for good.
Then there are those like Philip*, a 7-year-old who has bullied others but recognize it was wrong to do so.
“We partnered with Philip* because we were moved by his recognition of his actions and his desire to help others,” Tonya says. “He is now passionate about creating anti-bullying clubs in schools. So we’re not just helping people who have been bullied. But people who have bullied.”
Free2Luv recently hosted an interactive workshop consisting of children on both sides of the storm. Through inclusive dialogue and heartfelt interaction, the children came to the realization that they were all the same. No matter if they were the storm or those who feared it.
“I think all of the parents, at this point, were weeping,” Tonya says. “It was so profound to have them walk through it.”
“Experiences such as these make all of the ‘heart’ work worthwhile. It is very rewarding to know the work we are doing saves lives and empowers youth to embrace everyone’s uniqueness.”
The children that Free2Luv reaches now see that they can be powerful and they can make big change.
That yes, they are special. And yes, they are loved.
That, yes, the dark skies will move on and the sun and its light are waiting.