It’s so important for everyone to know their worth. Not only do I run the organization but I am hands-on with the youth. That takes so much time and effort but it’s crucial. For me, my worth is beyond running an organization. I’m literally saving lives. I am pleased that my board and others recognize my worth as well.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ross Ellis.
Ross Ellis is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of STOMP Out Bullying. She is nationally recognized as an expert for her work in bullying and cyberbullying prevention, violence against children, online safety, as well as being an expert in parenting. In 2005, Ross founded STOMP Out Bullying, the leading national bullying and cyberbullying prevention nonprofit for kids and teens in the U.S. STOMP Out Bullying has since become the most influential anti-bullying organization in the country.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve always cared about the underdog. From the time I was very young, I always wanted to help people. I watched my grandmother, the ultimate advocate and fundraiser, the woman who cared about everyone. I knew I wanted to be just like her. My mother pushed me into studying art so I could become an art teacher. I knew I didn’t want that. I volunteered my time as a candy striper at Boston Children’s Hospital but then it was time for high school graduation with my mother still pushing me to do what she wanted me to do.
I went down many career paths. I guess you could call me the female George Plimpton. When I moved to New York City, I became a volunteer for New York Cares. As much as I loved it, I wanted to do more. I spoke with my supervisor at New York Cares and told him I wanted to work with kids in a hospital setting. I ended up supervising a group of volunteers at Mt. Sinai Hospital where we planned parties for the kids every week and ran the “Dreams Come True” program as the sole volunteer granting wishes to kids with cancer and leukemia. I did this for a couple of years until my group went their own way in their lives. Suddenly I was contacted by the Executive Director of the Starlight Children’s Foundation. After a meeting with her, I decided to make the move. I was granting wishes on a greater basis and was allowed to reach out to anyone I needed to, to make the wish happen. I volunteered for Starlight for 18 years.
While working with kids at both the hospital and through Starlight, I noticed that many kids were being neglected and abandoned.
Still feeling that itch to help more kids I met with Starlight’s executive director and asked her if she thought I had it in me to start my own organization and she immediately said, “yes.”
In 1999, I began Love Our Children USA to prevent child abuse and neglect. I tried my best to keep it going but it was very difficult because unfortunately, no one cared about kids that were being abused. Even though it was a challenge, I made up my mind to continue the fight and that’s when the public began reaching out about bullying. Cyberbullying didn’t even have a name then.
I learned as much as I could, took psychology and parenting courses, and reached out to experts. Within two days of posting the information on anti-bullying on the Love Our Children USA website, it crashed, I knew I was onto something and placed the information on the web site again. I spoke to whoever would speak with me and in 2005 STOMP Out Bullying was born.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
Our mission is to work with youths 11–24. Adults try reaching out to us all of the time but I stick with our mission. One day we received an email from a young man who clearly had some mental health issues. He wrote that the satellite’s and communications were bullying him. I did not respond to him but filed his email away. Almost a year later, on a Saturday afternoon, we received an email pretty much with the same complaint, only this time he said that if the bullying didn’t stop he would have no choice to commit mass murder. This led me to get the law enforcement in his area involved. After several conversations with law enforcement, they found him and took him into the hospital for 72 hours. Many months later I heard from his parole officer to tell me he was incarcerated. That was a day I will never forget and hope that this young man received the appropriate help.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’ve made some mistakes, no one is perfect, but I can’t recall any of them being funny!
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
STOMP Out Bullying has helped over 5 million youths resolve bullying situations. We established a 24/7 HelpChatLine for youths who have been bullied, cyberbullied and at-risk for suicide. To-date, the HelpChat Line has helped over 100,000 students and has saved over 2,000 lives. Through additional resources over 6,000 lives have been saved. These numbers increase daily. STOMP Out Bullying has worked with over 15,000 school partners to raise awareness and educate students and it has over 20 Youth Leaders working to change the culture in schools across the country.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
Helping 13 year-old Shani, who signed onto the STOMP Out Bullying HelpChat Line, not wanting to live with the torment of being bullied was so gratifying. She was on the verge of taking her life the night she contacted STOMP Out Bullying. She had a plan in place. One of the trained, volunteer counselors helped her to see that although she was hurt by these rumors, that ending her life was not the solution. Through our counselor’s help and resources, Shani is thriving today as a peer mentor at school and standing up for others. This is just one of millions of ways we have made an impact on the lives of kids and teens.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Schools can stop sweeping the issue of bullying under the rug, and adults can stop sensationalizing the issue as it makes it more difficult for their children to handle. Schools can educate students on how-to be an upstander and celebrate kindness. Social media executives can start doing more of what companies like TikTok are instituting. Users can now control which comments can be posted on their content. This will allow people to filter spam and offensive comments, and specific keywords. TikTok also encourages users to reconsider posting a comment that may be unkind. If a user writes an inappropriate comment, then a prompt will appear asking users to reconsider posting that comment.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Over the course of my career, leadership has meant many things to me. Leaders are charged with the action of leading a group of people or an organization, with having a vision, and persuading others to follow it.
One of the most rewarding times as a leader has been getting to know the kids and teens that have come to STOMP Out Bullying for help as well as receiving all the influential support we have over the last 15 years. When I first started this nonprofit I didn’t expect all these people to come out and support us, but they did and I never take that for granted one bit! Global Ambassador’s like, Taye Diggs, Logan Browning, Laurie Hernandez, and Trudie Styler have really helped us to raise brand awareness on such an important issue.
Yes, I am the “leader” of STOMP Out Bullying but I consider all of the people who have supported us along the way, as well as the kids and teens who deal with the bullies and who are the upstanders, the real leaders.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Know my worth — It’s so important for everyone to know their worth. Not only do I run the organization but I am hands-on with the youth. That takes so much time and effort but it’s crucial. For me, my worth is beyond running an organization. I’m literally saving lives. I am pleased that my board and others recognize my worth as well.
Value your time — For the first 13 years of running the charity I did not take a salary. I wanted to build a strong brand. I sold real estate in addition to running the charity and made sure that I used my time wisely.
Take chances — I took many, as I stated I did not take a salary for 13 years. I took chances in creating campaigns that I wasn’t 100% sure would work. Those risks turned into successful campaigns and I’m so grateful that I took those chances.
Messaging and awareness — Awareness is critical for any and all issues. I thought I could do it all myself but quickly learned that engaging experts in those areas was key for me. That is how we got to be recognized as the most the most influential anti-bullying and cyberbullying organization in America and beyond.
Marketing — Many nonprofits don’t look at their organization as a brand. This is a must. By not building a brand you are just another name among charities. By building a brand, you ensure that the public, corporate partners, donors and those you serve know you are the go-to charity for your cause.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Our National Culture Week™, which took place this year from April 19th — April 23rd, and the 3rd Annual Culture Shock event, which took place virtually on April 21, 2021. The goal of the livestream panel is to be the catalyst for an online conversation as well as calling on schools and communities throughout the country to not only join the live stream discussion, but to continue the discussion throughout the week.
The focus of this initiative is to spark a conversation among youth about the need to change the culture from one of cruelty to one of kindness and inclusivity. National Culture Week provides an opportunity for youths to share and learn from each other’s diverse cultural backgrounds and experiences …not judge them because they look different.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
During the pandemic, there has been an increase in kids and teens usage of digital platforms for personal use and for online learning. With the increased usage of digital devices and social media apps, students who are prone to being bullied in school are likely to now be cyberbullied. Although cyberbullying has been around for a long time, we’re living in unprecedented times and when kids are stressed out and bored the opportunity to cyberbully is appealing.
Imagine all those children that are now being home schooled online and afraid to sign into their accounts due to the same reason. Children who have more free time on their hands may find additional screen time attractive and cyberbullying can become one of their activities.
We have always been an organization dedicated to spreading kindness and preventing bullying and cyberbullying. We encourage communities, youth, students and society to use their voice to make bullying history. I never want to see another child in pain and I never want to hear the words, “I want to die.”
My favorite quote is by Michelle Obama, “When someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level. No, our motto is, when they go low, we go high.”
It is so relevant to remember Mrs. Obama’s wise words when blocking out those bullies. Kids and teens who are being bullied should keep this quote on a piece of paper near them and read it to remind them to go “high” when their bullies go “low.”
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
There are a few people with whom I would love to speak! However, I would probably choose Michelle Obama. Her dedication and focus on children and young adults is unbeatable. She has continued her mission to help kids and young adults be the best version of themselves through her tenure as the first lady but also now, as a citizen of the USA. Through her public service and White House initiatives, Let’s Move and Reach Higher, she has been a role model for young people and helped them recognize they can live a better life, and to reach for the stars. She is a woman of many inspirational quotes and they have always inspired me on how-to lead my organization. I would just love to meet the woman behind the quotes in person! I mentioned my favorite above but this is also one that really resonates with what STOMP Out Bullying is trying to promote for today’s youth, civility, diversity, inclusion and equality.
“No matter what, you give everybody a fair shake, and when somebody needs a hand, you offer yours,” said Michelle Obama
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!