By Michael Ventre | August 25, 2014 | Lifestyle
LA fashion flack Elissa Kravetz is taking The Farley Project's "kindness curriculum"—and a personal story—to a schoolnear you. Bully for her!
Elissa Kravetz in the LA office of Kravetz PR.
A middle-school bathroom is not a preferred location in which to eat lunch. But when you’re a seventh-grader, and all your friends have suddenly turned their backs on you for no apparent reason, and you’re getting gum put in your hair, eggs thrown at you, having the words “Die Bitch” spray-painted on your locker, having your shoes lit on fire, having to sleep with your parents each night because you feel sad and alone and afraid… you take sanctuary where you can get it.
“I realized when I got hit with an egg that it wasn’t safe for me [in the school cafeteria] anymore,” Elissa Kravetz, now a successful public-relations executive based in Los Angeles, recalls of one horrific school year while growing up in Framingham, Massachusetts. “I would pretend to be sick. But when I couldn’t pretend to be sick anymore, I’d go eat in the bathroom.”
There is no consensus as to why bullies engage in bullying. But there does seem to be universal agreement that the effects of bullying remain with the victims for years. Recognition of that painful reality, and her own excruciating experiences as a youngster, led Kravetz to create The Farley Project, an anti-bullying nonprofit dedicated to spreading the word in schools—to bullies and their victims alike, as well as all young people—that kindness is the way to go.
“It’s been amazing,” Kravetz says of her three plus-year effort. “I feel this is why I was put on this planet.”
Kravetz and one of her staff members at a Farley Project event held at a local school.
What caused her to act and embrace the anti-bullying effort came more from a lengthy personal exploration than one epiphany. Her journey took the scenic route. She made many stops along the way—Kabbalah, yoga, a trip to India, hypnotherapy, even boxing workouts to punch the lights out of haunting faces. She was searching for something, but she wasn’t sure what, or why. While seeing a therapist, Kravetz came to mentor a young girl named Ariel, who was experiencing the same kind of senseless mean-spiritedness from classmates that she once endured.
Later, in June 2010, Kravetz was asked to speak before an anti-bullying school assembly at Elmhurst Elementary School in Ventura. “I said, ‘I’m not giving an assembly. I can’t even talk about it without crying,’” she remembers. But she stepped up, and opened up, about that one incredibly upsetting school year—in front of 500 kids. Not long after, she was asked to speak at a summer camp in New Hampshire, and she received a check for $400—a fee that she didn’t want, didn’t ask for, and tried to refuse.
“I kept it in my wallet for a couple of months,” says Kravetz, who runs the firm Kravetz PR with her New York-based sister Jessica; they rep high-end fashion, beauty, and lifestyle brands and include Steve Madden among their clients. “Then I decided to open a bank account and start a nonprofit.” She recalls she had absolutely no idea what she was doing; she just started assigning tasks to friends and family members. With their help, The Farley Project—Farley was the name of the middle school (which no longer exists) where she was traumatized—became a reality.
The effort received a major boost after Kravetz detailed her story in a Huffington Post blog entitled, “Confessions of a Publicist Who Woke Up.” Says Kravetz: “It went viral. It was all over Facebook. Right away I got a letter from someone putting me in touch with a law firm in New York that said it would do my 501(c)(3) paperwork pro bono. A graphic artist in New Jersey offered to do our logo for free. I got an e-mail from a guidance counselor in Inglewood, asking us to come to her school. I got an e-mail from my seventh-grade boyfriend who said, ‘I know I broke up with you during that time and I’m sorry.’”
Two students from Century Academy For Excellence middle school participating in a Farley Project anti-bullying workshop.
The Farley Project has since presented assemblies in several schools in New York and Southern California, and its mission has attracted celebrity supporters including Hilary Duff, Louis van Amstel, and Catt Sadler. “I want to be in every school in the country,” Kravetz declares, admitting that donations are sorely needed. (Recently, The Farley Project received a grant from Sony WAVE, the studio’s women’s philanthropy division and FABB, the Fashion Accessories Benefit Ball). “I think we will be.”
Gerald Saluti, a former criminal defense attorney who now runs a nonprofit in New Jersey called the Newark Yoga Movement, is also a board member of The Farley Project and has seen firsthand the lasting effects of Kravetz’s visits.
“It is truly amazing to walk into a school we’ve already been to,” he says, “to see kids on a playground run up to mob her and hug her. We were walking across the courtyard at one school in LA with 400 T-shirts (they say CHOOSE KINDNESS), and we couldn’t get across the courtyard because they were mobbing her.”
The Farley Project uses a variety of tools to break down the bully barriers. They ask victims to speak. They tell bullies how brave it would be for them to apologize to their victims—and many of them stand up and do so. They ask kids to place “compliment cards” in other students’ lockers. It’s all dedicated to letting young people know that, just as cruelty can become a habit, so can love.
Ariel, who is still in close contact with Kravetz and who preferred that her last name not be used, is nearing graduation from Indiana University. She emphasizes that The Farley Project isn’t a fleeting notion. It’s here to stay.
“The thing that is most impressive about Farley,” she says, “is that they go into schools and not only offer support and stories and empathize, but they don’t leave after one day. It’s a program that is implemented for a good amount of time. They teach kids the effects of bullying to prevent it.”
Nowadays Elissa Kravetz eats lunch just about anywhere she wants to. On one particular afternoon she chose Café Gratitude on Larchmont. Her shoes weren’t on fire, but there was a noticeable bounce in her step. Before settling in to peruse the menu, she hugged two waiters and a visitor.
“I’m 37 years old now,” she said, “and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life.”
photography by Melissa Valladares (kraVetz); courtesy of Jordan kleinMan (t-shirt eVent); chad J. Wilson/#urfaMo.us co. llc (students hugging). kraVetz’s office Wall coVering by carl robinson Wallpaper