These are encouraging times for students and parents in the Blaine School District who are concerned about bullying.
No one is more excited than Pizza Factory owner Laura Massaro and Healthy Youth Coalition co-founders Erika Creydt and husband Jesse Creydt.
Thanks to their devotion to providing students a tangible yet symbolic way to battle bullying – the new Buddy Bench – the three adults are gratified to see more and more friendships being created among youth.
If a student of any age feels he or she needs a friend – sometimes because of an incident of bullying – others can join that student on the Buddy Bench to meet and talk.
Of course, that’s just a start.
“We thought the most practical place to install the Buddy Bench was at the Blaine Skate Park (in downtown Blaine, close to the Pizza Factory),” Massaro says.
The Buddy Bench was installed at a community celebration in April, involving the city of Blaine, the Healthy Youth Coalition and the Pizza Factory, along with national Pizza Factory CEO Mary Jane Riva as a special guest. Massaro was touched to see that Riva was so moved that she donated $1,000 to Blaine’s youth program.
Pizza Factory franchises all are expected to participate in their No Bullying Program.
“A lot of incidents called bullying are, in fact, crimes,” Erika Creydt says.
“Anyone who is different can be a prime target,” Massaro says.
That’s not all
Since January, Massaro has donated the use of the Pizza Factory’s arcade room for the entertainment of 13- to 18-year old students every Saturday night from 5-9 p.m. “No Bully Zone” is prominently painted on the wall near the entrance.
In the first half of this year, “More than 700 visitors (many of them repeat attendees) came to our Saturday night activities,” Massaro said.
The activities feature a DJ and a sound system, along with music including karaoke and games such as air hockey.
“We feed the kids by donation; they all eat,” Massaro says. “We use adult volunteers and supervisors (called teen hosts).”
The Creydts, who operate TouchStone Health in Blaine and Ferndale, play an enthusiastic role in the fun.
The Saturday night fun gives younger students something to look forward to when they are in middle school and high school. Already, word has gotten out and some pre-teens have been known to sneak a peek at what’s going on.
Erika Creydt, 37, holds a doctorate in clinical psychology and is clinical director of TouchStone, a behavioral health facility. Jesse Creydt is executive director of TouchStone and president of the Healthy Youth Coalition, a North County nonprofit founded in 2017.
“Hundreds of people have joined the coalition,” says Jesse Creydt, noting that Blaine schools now have a fulltime school resource police officer.
Inspiration to help
Blaine’s involvement in Washington state’s 2016 Healthy Youth Survey for students in grades 8, 10 and 12 showed Blaine students trailed their state and county peers in enjoyment of school, feeling safe at school, school attempts to stop bullying and bullying experienced in the last month.
Now, the Creydts fervently hope the 2018 survey (to be conducted in autumn) will show significant improvement.
“These data really made me stand up and take notice,” said Massaro, who purchased the Blaine Pizza Factory franchise less than two years ago.
After seeing the numbers, she said she quickly decided to help in any way she could.
The result, as the Creydts see it: “Laura truly goes above and beyond.”
“The whole community has begun to stand up for the kids,” Erika Creydt said.