by Dori Busell | May 10, 2018
Taking Action to Keep Our Children Safe
How Marjory Stoneman Douglas alumni and concerned South Florida parents came together to effectuate change in communities and in government across the state and beyond
As the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School unfolded live on TVs across the country, the tight-knit community of Parkland, Florida watched in disbelief as their neighbors, children, educators and community slowly trickled out of the building guided by SWAT teams. Over the next few hours, it was revealed that a former student shot and killed 17 students and faculty, with many others wounded and clinging for their lives.
In the coming days and weeks, the communities of Parkland and Coral Springs banded together to grieve, support the families of the victims and questioned what they could do to ensure that the shooting at Stoneman Douglas would be the last.
Alumnus in Action
For Jamie Bayardelle, a father of two and local businessman, the tragedy hit especially hard. Jamie is a 1995 graduate of Douglas and his four years at Douglas provided the foundation for a lifetime of friendship and success, both academically and professionally. So when Jamie saw a call to action on a local Facebook page of concerned parents called South Florida Community for Action, he immediately got in touch to offer his support. Sandy Beyer, a mother of two young children based in Delray Beach and a former elementary school educator, started the Facebook group days after February 14. Very quickly, the group grew to more than 6,800 concerned parents from the community who were joined by their desire to take action to ensure a shooting would not happen in their children’s schools or other locations where they spend time ever again.
Jamie and Sandy agreed that talking about preventing school shootings was not enough. In order to make real change, a group needed to be formalized that had specific goals and actions in mind. The Children’s Safety Initiative was created by Jamie and Sandy with the mission to make children safe in schools and communities by focusing on three key areas: meaningful mental wellness education and resources, fortifying and protecting the facilities where children learn, play and live and helping to construct responsible gun ownership policies through bi-partisan efforts.
Nonprofit for Nonviolence
Through the combination of the Children’s Safety Foundation, filed to be recognized by the IRS as a 501(c)(3) and the Children’s Safety Coalition, a non-profit 501(c)(4) organization, they feel they can take both an educational and legislative approach to solving the issues that face children and parents today.
“According to the CDC, there have been more than 14,000 children under the age of 18 killed from gun violence since 2014. That is a huge and preventable number,” said Jamie Bayardelle. “The horrific events at Douglas made us realize that gun violence can happen anywhere. Rather than feel helpless, we decided to create the Children’s Safety Coalition to take action and force change. Because no matter what your political view, everyone can agree that one child killed in their school is one too many.”
The Children’s Safety Coalition quickly gained momentum as Jamie and Sandy mobilized parents, friends, Douglas alumni and concerned citizens to join the cause. The law firm of Caplin & Drysdale, one of Washington DC’s top law firms specializing in tax exempt endeavors agreed to help and a board of directors comprised of business leaders, alumni and influencers, is in the process of being finalized.
“There is no single solution for keeping our children safe. That’s why we decided to make the Children’s Safety Initiative a multi-faceted approach to address all areas of concern. We hope that by focusing on mental wellness education, physically fortifying the schools and conversations around responsible gun reform, we can make this a bi-partisan effort that everyone can support,” said Sandy Beyer.
One of the first initiatives of the Children’s Safety Foundation is a fundraiser in support of the Love in Action program, which encourages participants to carry out 17 random acts of love and kindness in remembrance of the 17 victims at Douglas. The idea was created by Stoneman Douglas alumni Jennifer Martin (’99) and her sister Lindsey Berman (’02) of The Lovemark Company. The idea is to do one act of love or good deed with the hope that kindness begets kindness, sharing your good deed on social media and asking others to join in support. Wellington Community High School has agreed to be the first to pilot the program. The goal is to incorporate the program across all elementary, middle and high schools nationwide.
The Foundation has also been hard at work developing a smart phone application called Threat Stop that would allow students to post any sort of potential threat anonymously to teachers, administrators and parents instantaneously. Threat Stop is currently in beta testing.
In addition to pushing government officials for legislative changes, Bayardelle added, “We believe the most meaningful change will come from helping to evolve a fundamental culture that breeds these types of events to occur.”
To get involved or donate to the Children’s Safety Coalition, please visit childrenssafetycoalition.org.