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You’ve got a friend in her

Santa Clarita Valley teen on a mission to promote friendship, stop bullying

Posted: March 24, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: March 24, 2014 2:00 a.m.

Fourteen-year-old Sarah Kennedy poses for a photo in her anti-bullying campaign shirt, with the word 'Stop' written on her hand. Courtesy photo

 

Sarah Kennedy is fast becoming Santa Clarita Valley’s ambassador of goodwill for kids with special needs — one gumball at a time.

Every time the 14-year-old La Mesa Junior High School student makes a friend — which is pretty much every time she meets someone — whether they’re famous like Sarah Jessica Parker or the kids at her school, Sarah gives them a gumball, takes a “selfie” photo to document the exchange and adds the person’s name to her growing tally of “gumball friends.”

More than 1,500 people are now proud to call themselves a “gumball friend” of the young special needs teen, who, according to the praise heaped on her by thousands of young people posting online around the world, is “amazing” and “inspiring.”

More than 10,000 people are following Sarah online, said her mother Terri Kennedy during a recent visit she and her daughter made to The Signal.

Also growing at a steady rate is the number of people worldwide viewing and subscribing to Sarah’s “I’m Different, You’re Different” YouTube video she produced.

In her “let’s be friends” video entitled “I’m Different, You’re Different,” teddy bears star in a slide show story of meeting at the park, finding other teddy bears at the park, being shunned and, in the end, becoming friends.
“People were crying,” said Sarah about the impact her “let’s be friends” video campaign has had on those around her.

“Our neighbor up the street starting crying,” she said.

Sarah has autism, with a very special need — the need to make as many friends as possible, she said.

“Sarah was so happy and grateful to be able to attend (a recent all-schools) dance, she made a large poster that said ‘I’m glad we are friends’ and gave it to a (Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s) deputy,” her mother wrote in an email to The Signal. “She even made a few gumball friends.

“As she walked out with her teacher (her aide for the evening) my eyes filled with happy tears,” she wrote. “Her smile was huge. She plans to attend next year with the hope that some of her classmates might join her.”

Watch Sarah's YouTube video below:

Stop bullying

In October, during National Bullying Awareness Prevention Month, she set her sights on actually doing something about the bullying of special needs kids such as herself.

Although she is proud to report she is not, and has not, been bullied at her school, she has been bullied in the past, said her mother.

Sarah came up with the idea of wearing red on one specific day in October to draw attention to the devastating adverse affects of bullying on children — her idea being that since stop signs are red, so should her shirts calling for a stop to bullying.

Through the sale of red shirts promoting a stop to bullying, Sarah raised $160 in October, which she promptly donated to her school’s anti-bullying program.

Sarah Kennedy is a girl of few words but plenty of action.

Her plan now is create a national day devoted to “Stop Bullying,” she said.

“Being a fun family we often celebrate silly national holidays,” her mother wrote in an email to The Signal. “We eat pancakes on pancake day, ice cream on ice cream day. ... One day Sarah asked, ‘How do you get a national day?’ We looked the answer up on the computer and found that you simply ask your congressman,” her mother said.

Mother and daughter then proceeded to research the prospect of a day devoted to ending bullying and began petitioning Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, to help them.

They dropped off letters, T-shirts and, of course, gumballs to McKeon’s office in hopes of speaking to him about the plan, Terri Kennedy said.

“In an effort to encourage friendship Sarah and many community members including a local Girl Scout troop have been writing many letters to Congressman Buck McKeon,” her mother said. 

“Sarah would like every October 18 (October is bully prevention month and the 18th is her birthday) to be National I’m different, you’re different. Let’s be friends day,” she said.

Anyone else inspired by Sarah to help stop bullying or become a gumball friend, can watch her video on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tl1McVRYCYU.

jholt@signalscv.com
661-287-5527
on Twitter
@jamesarthurholt

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