With the start of school just few weeks away, many children are busy setting personal goals for the year ahead. Old Forge Elementary School's Nathan Cieslak has made it his goal to try and make the school experience better for everyone.
Proving you're never too young to make a difference, the 10-year-old, fifth grade student is selling T-shirts featuring a logo of his own design, and the slogan "Only You Can Prevent Bullying."
Nathan is hoping the shirts, priced at $12, will create a greater awareness of the problem of bullying.
"I just want to get the word out that bullying is wrong, and it's not cool to do, it's not fun for anyone, (and) it's not a good experience," said Nathan.
Nathan brought the idea of creating a shirt to his mother, April Cieslak, a few weeks ago, who explained to him that he would need a logo and slogan to put on the shirt.
She said a few hours later her son had everything he needed.
"It didn't take long because I was thinking about it the whole day, so I already had the design planned out in my head," Nathan said.
With the design of the shirt ready, Cieslak started looking for someone to print them. She said she talked to a few people but ultimately decided to go with GC Sweats.
Cieslak said she felt a connection with Joseph F. Schillaci, president of GC Sweats, who was also passionate about the cause.
"Immediately we gave them a discount, because of the nature of it. I thought it was so admirable of Nathan that I couldn't get involved fast enough. There's nobody that wasn't bullied at one time in their life, including me," said Schillaci.
After coming on board, Schillaci helped make some tweaks to the design, and shared the news of Nathan's project with his son Rocco A. Schillaci II, Esquire, who, also being able to sympathize with what some children are forced to go through, sponsored the T-shirts through his law firm, Schillaci Law, LLC, paying for a portion of the production cost.
"I thought it was a great idea and a great cause for such a young kid to want to get involved in," said Schillaci II.
"I think it's really in the forefront right now. With social media, bullying is not what it used to be. It's not stealing your lunch money and pushing you on the playground, it's really a psychological game."
Bullying has changed for children in the last 10 years.
After school, children used to be able to go home and be safe, but now, because of the popularity of Facebook and texting, the bullying can follow students home.
"It's more serious," added Cieslak, a teacher's aide in the Old Forge School District. "You have children committing suicide over it. I've obviously, and fortunately, haven't been in a school district where that's happened, but it has happened locally. So, it's serious, and I think we need to take it seriously."
One way to have the problem taken more seriously is to create awareness and also educate children and adults on what to do if they are being bullied, witness bullying, or if they are the one doing the bullying.
Nathan's T-shirt campaign will hopefully be able to have an impact on both, with a portion of the proceeds from the shirts being donated to the PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center.
The nonprofit organization, which was originally established as an advocacy for children with disabilities, became involved in bullying prevention about 10 years ago, according to Julie Hertzog, director of PACER.
"We had so many parents contacting us about bullying situations," said Hertzog.
"The stories we were hearing were heartbreaking and they impacted us, especially as an advocacy organization."
PACER developed resources, primarily online, for children. The donations from Nathan's project will be going to help and continue the development of those resources.
But possibly even more important than the money they will be receiving will be the potential impact Nathan will be making on his community, as Hertzog explained that peer-generated projects usually have a larger effect on children.
"When a young person like Nathan takes action like this…the message has just a much stronger impact when it's coming from a peer, and we hear that from students all the time," said Hertzog.
"Adults can talk about this to kids, and it's important that adults model the policies and set the procedures and rules, but it's really the kids themselves that have such an influence in this topic, and it's really their social issue…and they're probably the ones that can take the strongest action to remedy it," said Hertzog.
Members of Old Forge, and surrounding communities, may have already proven Hertzog's theory true, as Nathan was able to sell 75 shirts in three days.
"He came in originally for 12 shirts and said, ‘I want to sell them to my friends,'" said Schillaci.
"And then this kind of all escalated," said Nathan.
Cieslak said the family didn't have to make any phone calls for the sale of the first run of shirts, with word of mouth bringing members of the community to them, who were also passionate about their cause.
"I know a lot of the parents that bought them were (saying), ‘This is so important. This is an amazing thing that Nathan is doing,' A lot of comments and a lot of positive feedback," said Cieslak.
The positive feedback will most likely continue in the coming weeks, as Nathan and Schillaci plan on notifying surrounding school districts about the T-shirt sale.
Nathan has requested permission from the Old Forge School District to sell the shirts in the district. Old Forge Elementary School Principal Nicole Vanluvender said she is unaware if a decision on that has been made yet, but added that she is pleased with Nathan's project.
"I couldn't be prouder of his efforts,' said Vanluvender.
"He really stands up, in every situation, for what he thinks is right."
For more information on PACER visit www.pacer.org/bullying/.