Allison used to love to go to school. But two years ago, when her big sister moved on from elementary school to junior high, Allison found herself alone when she became the target of relentless bullying.
Allison is eleven years old. She loves Spiderman and Star Wars. The other kids mock her for carrying a Spiderman lunch box. Allison is taunted, ostracized, and even physically attacked by her peers.
Allison’s mother Aimee said, “It's painful to see your child unhappy, and to feel like whatever you try to do to help them doesn't have much impact. I'm not used to feeling helpless to any extent, so seeing Allison go through this...thankfully she knows how much I love her, and is open with me about how she is feeling. Those days when she gets in the car when I pick her up (I no longer allow her to walk home from school) and she says she has had a good day are a blessing, and those days she looks miserable I remind her tomorrow will be better, and distract her with happier thoughts and activities.”
Meetings with the school have made no difference, as the school has not taken any meaningful ongoing actions to address the situation. Once they talked to the kids in the classroom about the behavior, but that was it, and nothing changed.
I learned about Allison on Thursday afternoon, May 15, when Brian Troyan, a member of the 501st Legion, sent me an email.
Brian asked, “I wonder if Katie might be ready to pass along her Stormtrooper armor to another little girl who has been bullied and who needs a little love and a reminder that she shouldn't ever need to hide who she is.”
Ahh, Katie’s infamous armor. In 2012, the 501st Legion came together in an international effort to build my daughter a custom set of Stormtrooper armor, built to the specifications for the original Star Wars movies. The gesture was one of solidarity against bullying. It was a show of support for the right of little geek girls to play with something besides gender-assigned toys.
Katie rocked that armor at her school’s Halloween parade. And again while trick-or-treating. And in spring at the Purim Carnival. And in summer at Star Wars Day in Joliet. Getting her ready each time was a cosmic task, but the outcome was always stunning.
I sat on the edge of Katie’s bed Thursday night and told her about Allison. She asked me questions. “Do the other kids hit her? Does she have any friends? Did she tell her parents? Why didn’t the teachers make the other kids stop?” And then, after I answered to the best of my ability, she simply said, “That is terrible.”
“So,” I said, “Would you be willing to give Allison your Stormtrooper armor?”
“Yes! Of course,” she answered immediately. “That’s a great idea!” I emailed Brian Troyan to let him know Operation Armor Transfer was a go.
Troyan had just discovered that Allison would be at an Autism Speaks event early Saturday morning at Soldier Field. The 501st Legion would be volunteering at the event, and Brian wondered if it would be possible to present the armor to Allison at that time. We didn’t have much time!
We arranged for him to drive into our town to pick up the armor Friday night. I would leave it on the back porch, because we would be at the spring ice show where two of our daughters were performing.
On Friday afternoon, Katie and Annie Rose each brought a friend home from school. All four of the girls - ranging from 1st grade to 4th grade -- sat at the table and wrote cards and notes to Allison, offering their support to the little girl who was being bullied. We packed up the notes, the armor, a copy of my book about bullying, and the Blaster, and placed it outside.
Steve Gaza, a member of the 501st who had helped Katie suit up for the first time in the armor, was on hand at Soldier Field that Saturday morning, and he helped Allison suit up. She had a wonderful time:
Aimee said, “I think perhaps the letters from the girls meant more to her than the armor itself, and has made her feel like she has ‘yet-to-be-met’ friends out there in the world...something she had forgotten for a while.”
Yes, Allison, you have friends out there. You will find them and they will find you. Just hang in there and keep true to who you are. You are an incredible young lady, a gift to your family, and a person who matters.
Check out Carrie Goldman's award-winning book Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear.