Rod Beaumont comes bustling in to a small Prescott conference room, a few minutes late for a scheduled visit. He looks somewhat stressed, as if he has been terribly busy but will interrupt his work as a courtesy. His hair is longer and his build stockier than a publicity picture on the Internet depicts. His denim shirt -- adorned by an embroidered "America's Promise" logo of a little red wagon -- is tucked into pants held up by a belt featuring a large buckle and some sort of empty holster.
He extends a firm handshake, makes direct eye contact behind aviator-style eyeglasses and smiles widely.
His wife, Mary, dressed in a stained Phoenix Coyotes "whiteout" tee shirt, her hair unkempt, is already inside. She asks that the door to the windowless little room be left open, to avoid claustrophobia. She apologizes for the mess -- really just a magazine, an empty soda container and a two-inch-high plastic soldier -- blaming teenagers who work at the office. She makes no mention of the huge stains on the carpet or the dirty rest room.
This is the headquarters of the National Anti-Bullying Hotline -- as seen on the CBS Early Show and in Time magazine -- which, according to its Web site and press releases, is a busy call center swamped with pleas for help from kids, parents, grandparents and educators. From this shabby, painted brick office, trained, professional counselors answer thousands of calls a day -- more than 250,000 since the hotline opened September 15. The hotline administrators and their dedicated volunteers are helping to fight bullying, aggression and all sorts of child-on-child violence. They are saving lives and making schools across the world safer.
Or so they say.
Rod and Mary Beaumont are the duo behind the Safe Schools, Safe Students organization, a nonprofit group whose biggest claim to fame is its anti-bullying hotline. Rod Beaumont, 45, who has a doctorate in communication, is the founder and CEO of the organization. He is also a best-selling author, an internationally known educational consultant, a school safety czar, a renowned school-to-work authority, a leading anti-bullying expert, a popular speaker, a seasoned pilot and former journalist.
Or so he says.
A visit to the Prescott headquarters yields a clue that these anti-bully crusaders are not all they say they are. They claim a cadre of 66 student and 40 adult volunteers, but on that Tuesday afternoon, only Rod, Mary and their son are present at the center until schools let out. Then, four teenagers report for duty, and one of them is their daughter, Kat.
During the first two-hour stretch, the telephone rings four or five times -- 800 to 1,000 fewer calls than one would expect by statistics contained in the many "urgent" press releases sent out by the group via e-mail, missives that always include desperate pleas for money to help them handle the overwhelming volume of incoming calls.
"Some days it's quiet, some days it's busy," explains Rod Beaumont.
A closer look at him and his organization reveals what may be a modern-day, high-tech version of the Wizard of Oz. Seemingly huge and impressive behind an Internet façade, the Stop the Bully organization is really a small-town operation run by a couple whose own finances are in ruin, who tend to stretch the truth or flat-out lie -- all in the name of fund-raising.
And helping kids, of course.
Seated at his slate-gray conference table, Rod Beaumont talks at length about the problems faced by students, about the need to bring communities together in times of crisis, about the good things his organization can accomplish if only it had more money. A native of Scotland, he has a slight, appealing brogue and he comes across as someone who genuinely cares, someone who just wants to get schools, students and communities together to stop the violence that is terrifying our poor young people.
He and Mary, 43, who for some reason started calling herself Mary Harvey on the Web site a couple of months ago (she says it's a pen name), are well-versed in the rare but horrifying incidents of school violence and bullying that have made headlines across the country and beyond. Within the space of an hour, they bring up many sobering cases of school murders, rapes and assaults. They have an odd habit of finishing each other's sentences, like twins sometimes do. Twice, they refer gravely to a kid in Japan who cut the head off another kid and stuck it on a fence. And they recount something they have included in past press releases:
Every two hours, a teenager in the United States commits suicide because of bullying.
It's a shocking statistic, one that makes you want to write a check on the spot to the anti-bullying hotline to try to make a difference.
But it's not true.
Government statistics reveal that, indeed, about every two hours, an American teenager does commit suicide. But the Beaumonts make the amazing claim that every one of those cases has been the result of bullying.
Sue Limber, a Clemson University professor who piloted anti-bully studies and programs in the United States and continues to work in the field, says she knows of no research that would substantiate the Beaumonts' claim.
"Certainly teen suicide is a big concern . . . ," she says. "But I'm not aware of any data that was collected systematically to find the real causes of suicide."
Limber also says she's never heard of the Beaumonts or their anti-bullying group.
Back in Prescott, Beaumont makes a telling remark, revealing how the cyberspace curtain can disguise who is really behind a Web site.
"One of the really neat things about the Internet is that you can be a one-man operation and have a Web site that makes you look like a multinational operation," he says.
Dr. Rod Beaumont, self-proclaimed international crusader for child safety, has built himself and his organization into larger-than-life entities thanks to the anonymity of the Internet. Using an aggressive e-mail-based public relations campaign -- one that sometimes includes two or three "urgent," "critical" or "very serious" press releases a day -- the Safe Schools, Safe Students group and its hotline have gotten coverage from media outlets across the country, including some big guns.
On October 17, Beaumont appeared on the CBS Early Show, chatting with Jane Clayson in the aftermath of a Secret Service report that revealed two-thirds of schoolyard shooters reported being bullied.
Ten days later, Time for Kids, a version of Time magazine aimed at schoolchildren, featured the group and its Safe Communities = Safe Schools campaign in a cover story.
The Christian Science Monitor, the New York Daily News and the New York Post have even made mention of the group, its efforts and its Web site.
Once the group shared the screen with Jane Clayson and Bryant Gumbel and graced the cover of Time (even the pintsize version), media coverage had a snowball effect. The anti-bully Web site boasts of these connections and includes the Time, CBS and Christian Science Monitor logos on its home page, lending it credibility that reaches far beyond its headquarters in an alley off Miller Valley Road in Prescott.
A spokesperson for Time for Kids says the story came about not as a result of press releases sent by the Beaumonts, but by a researcher investigating the topic on the Internet. Debra Richman says the magazine interviewed Rod Beaumont and area teachers to check out the group's efforts.
Beaumont claims he and his efforts (including his pre-bully work) have been featured on more than 3,500 radio shows, 100 TV shows and written about by more than 2,300 magazines, newspapers and journals. (A Nexis search returns a handful of actual news stories about him, but also dozens of press releases sent by the group using the public relations newswire service, a firm that helps disseminate news releases for organizations or companies.)
Publications or programs that mention, even briefly, the anti-bully group or just contact it are likely to find themselves listed on the Web site as a supporter, a group "on board" the tireless campaign to eradicate bullies. Sometimes the relationship is tweaked to make it sound like the Safe Schools group is a lot more popular and influential than it really is.
Three troubling cases in point:
When the Arizona Republic wrote an article about a January 4 graffiti attack -- purportedly by a hate group -- on the anti-bully headquarters, the newspaper itself became part of the news, mentioned in subsequent press releases to lure more media coverage.
But the Safe School, Safe Students group did more than herald the coverage by the state's largest newspaper. In an obvious case of Web site doctoring, it published what was reputed to be a copy of the Republic's online version of an article by reporter Mark Shaffer on its own Web site. But after the last paragraph, the bully fighters added two extra sentences: "To help Safe Schools, please call 520-443-9941 Ext 14. They need your donations and support."
The article closed with the Republic's standard tag line. "Reach the reporter at . . . ," making it look like Shaffer had pleaded for help in his original story.
Safe Schools, Safe Students was just one of many groups -- located using an Internet search -- that MTV appealed to late last year for help finding students adversely affected by pop music and culture. And network spokesperson Erica Terry says the response from the Prescott group was great.
"The Safe Schools folks have been totally awesome," she says. "They've been very helpful."
None of the individual stories drummed up by the anti-bully group was quite right for inclusion in the documentary MTV is producing, but Terry says she was grateful for the group's help. "It seems like a really good organization," she says.
What she didn't know was that the Beaumonts were representing themselves as "partners" with MTV, heavily involved in the making of the show.
In a December 6 press release, the Safe Schools organization announced: "The National Anti-Bullying Hotline in partnership with MTV News will be producing an hour long special on pop culture's negative impact on young people."
Informed of that wording, Terry said that wasn't true. "They are not in a partnership with us," she says.
Terry says the network is very careful about who it declares a partner, and she says she has e-mailed the group asking it to quit using that term.
On the Web site, the offending phrasing was changed to "in colaboration [sic] with," but Rod Beaumont told New Times later, "We're partners with MTV."
Another MTV project resulted in a more blatant altering of the facts. The anti-bully group reproduced an MTV-generated press release on its Web site announcing the network's yearlong "Fight for Your Rights" anti-discrimination campaign. In that case, the group doctored the press release to make it appear as if the Stop the Bully group was playing a key role in the project, sandwiching "Safe Schools, Safe Students and the National Anti-Bullying Hotline" into the list of "prestigious civil rights and other nonprofit organizations" that are actual partners of MTV in the campaign.
MTV representatives connected with that campaign did not return New Times' calls regarding the level of involvement by the Safe Schools organization.
Indeed, the anti-bully group considers itself such a close partner of MTV that a pop-up window on its Web site prominently features the MTV logo and the "Fight for Your Rights" slogan. Immediately below it appears an image of a tin can with a coin going into it as the Beaumonts seek donations to the anti-bully hotline.
Rod and Mary Beaumont say the organization's money woes took them by surprise.
They wanted to start small and grow.
"We played the media game to our advantage," says Rod Beaumont, but they thought it would take a while for the word to get out about their hotline. He says they were simply unprepared for the overwhelming response to their press releases. They say they expected a few hundred calls in the early weeks after their September 15 opening, but they got about 1,000 in the first week. After the appearance on the CBS morning show -- and the flashing of the hotline number on the screen -- "it just went crazy," Beaumont says. "By Thanksgiving, we were getting 37,000 calls or e-mails a week."
But the chronology of the group's financial problems doesn't jibe with the recollections of one of its former partners, or the desperate press releases sent out just two weeks after the hotline began.
Stan Turner, the Democratic party chairman of Prescott, worked for the Beaumonts for a year after answering a newspaper ad for an advertising salesman to sell space in the monthly School to Work newsletter. (That was a Beaumont project that evolved into the Safe Schools, Safe Students newsletter as well as the anti-bully hotline.)
Before quitting his job in October, Turner was helping coordinate the Safe Communities = Safe Schools week, seven days of voluntary special events that the Beaumonts say was adopted by thousands of schools across the country.
Turner says when he left the job, the hotline had just begun and was not too busy, although people who had received press releases were beginning to call to find out more about the group's efforts.
But an October 2 press release issued just two weeks after the hotline opened for business (and weeks before the CBS show) says "thousands of children and their parents have been calling . . . as the spate of child bullying, hazing and abuse continues across the United States."
In that release, "project coordinator" Mary Harvey is quoted as saying funding is already proving a "major limitation . . . putting the group in a strangle hold that could kill off this invaluable resource."
As with all Stop the Bully press releases, the announcement includes pleas for money and offers several ways to contribute: cash, credit card, sending a check by mail, using fax or telephone. One form on the Web site asks donors to fill out all the information on the front of the check (including bank account numbers, etc.) in lieu of mailing one in. And another release included the organization's bank account number for those wishing to merely wire funds into the anti-bully account.
While the Safe Schools group was reeling from fiscal troubles, so were the Beaumonts.
Just three weeks before opening their hotline, the couple filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in Phoenix, claiming debts of more than $125,000, assets of about $6,900 and a combined monthly income of $3,616 -- stemming from Rod Beaumont's income from his own educational consulting organization called Paradigm Marketing, and Mary's disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
A list of their outstanding debts shows about $24,000 in Mary Beaumont's student loans for her education and about $100,000 in credit-card charges and loans from a dozen different accounts in various cities and states.
Under assets, they value their 40 percent interest in Paradigm (their two sons own the rest of the firm) at $1, and the value of Rod's "best-selling" book at $1. They include things like hammers and other tools valued at $150, a black Lab dog worth $20 and a mutt valued at $50. After their $3,000 in the Arizona State Retirement System -- from when Rod worked as a School to Work coordinator for Yavapai Community College -- their most valuable asset is a 1986 Chevy Cavalier worth $2,500.
(School to Work was a federally mandated program aimed at getting more graduates ready for the work force. Coordinating efforts involved forging partnerships between educational institutions and companies to learn about, then institute, school training that would better satisfy business needs. The federal law expires this year, and states and school districts are expected to carry on the program.)
The Beaumonts neglected to report the 1996 Land Rover plastered with anti-bully bumper stickers parked outside their office. State records show the car is owned by Rod Beaumont and was financed with a $26,556 loan from a Chicago bank.
The Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition allows the Beaumonts to reorganize their debts, holding creditors at bay while the couple tries to get back on solid financial footing, much like a Chapter 11 petition does for a business. It also puts on hold the lawsuit American Express filed against them in Yavapai County Superior Court a month before they declared bankruptcy, seeking more than $20,000 in unpaid charges.
The Beaumonts, records show, agreed to a payment schedule in which they would send their trustee $378 a month for three years. But they haven't made a payment since October.
It's been a wild six months for the anti-bully group.
"We feel a little bit like the boy who cried wolf," Rod Beaumont says. "Every other week, it seems there is a crisis."
But for all the desperate pleas for money -- which include repeated threats of shutting down the hotline, one actual shutdown because of the group's inability to pay the phone bill, and nearly hysterical "immediate" cries for cash -- the Beaumonts have not raised much. Their own Web site listing of donors (sometimes spelled "doners") reveals piddling amounts from individuals, $5,500 from an anonymous contributor and $5,000 from the Phoenix Coyotes Goals for Kids Foundation. The amount totals less than $17,000.
One $100 donation from the Jewish Temple in Prescott was sent in a day after a bizarre plea from Mary Beaumont. In a letter to the local rabbi that she sent "in confidence" while disseminating it to media contacts via e-mails, she recounts intimate details of the personal toll the hotline's money problems are taking. She tells of physical ailments, psychological suffering, stress and despair that are haunting her family and driving her to consider suicide.
This was only a month after the hotline opened.
The Beaumonts, neither of whom is Jewish, got more sympathy and support from the local and state Jewish community after a series of graffiti attacks on the anti-bully headquarters included anti-Semitic signs and slurs.
According to the group's press releases and reports on file with the Prescott Police Department, there have been four attacks on the plain painted brick building that houses the anti-bully hotline and its affiliated entities, Paradigm and School to Work News. On October 27, November 9, January 4 and January 9, the Beaumonts reported finding white supremacist graffiti painted in black paint on the outside of their offices.
Included were Nazi and white supremacist symbols, phrases like "Die, Jew, Die," "Fuck," "Hitler Rules," references to being bullied around, and an ominous "Last Warning . . . Fire." Near the front door of the January 4 attack were the words "Devil Dog" -- a reference to a Gilbert white supremacist gang that outraged Valley residents by its brutal physical attacks on its victims.
After each attack, indignant and defiant press releases were immediately sent out, calling for unity in the face of such hate, pleading for more money to fight against the dark forces. The most recent acts of vandalism -- and the press releases notifying everyone about them -- got the attention of the Arizona Jewish Defense League, which offered a $1,000 reward for the apprehension of the vandals, installed free security cameras on the anti-bully site and appeared with Rod Beaumont on a National Public Radio discussion of the attack.
(According to a police report, the Beaumonts said although they are not Jewish, "just because of their business, they are associated with that." Police later said they had no clue why someone might assume an anti-bully hotline would be run by Jews.)
The fourth attack also appeared to have raised the interest of the FBI, which the Beaumonts said in a press release was investigating the crime.
Ed Hall, spokesman for the FBI office in Phoenix, says no investigation has been launched -- just that the anti-bully people sent them reports and photos about the incidents.
Prescott police, who should have been the ones to contact the FBI if they felt more help was needed, didn't even know the group had contacted federal authorities.
Gilbert police, who weren't aware of the graffiti attacks in Prescott, at first said the crime didn't sound like the Devil Dogs' work. But then, Sergeant Ken Fixel said he learned one of the gang members had relocated to Prescott. And since the group did have a white supremacist theme and a history of graffiti (albeit not signing their names), he said there might be a possible connection.
Sergeant Mike Kabbel of the Prescott Police Department later discounted this, saying the Devil Dog in question was already in custody on an unrelated charge at the time of the attacks.
Rod Beaumont says it's pointless now to speculate who was behind the attacks. What's important, he says, is that police have a good idea who did it, they have managed to dissuade the person from acting again and, as a result, the attacks have stopped.
But that's not what police say. They say they have no idea who committed the crimes, they can't even say they are connected and they haven't labeled them hate crimes. They say once the resident Devil Dog was ruled out, their investigation came to a standstill.
Police will say there are several aspects of the four incidents that they find curious, out of the ordinary in a town that does have its share of gangs and graffiti:
The graffiti are unlike any seen before in Prescott. There is no history of religious intolerance in town. In fact, they say, quite the opposite is true. Many church or temple groups come to the city -- with its cool summer climate -- for retreats, camps or meetings and there has never been any trouble. And they say no one has boasted about drawing the graffiti and it hasn't spread to any other parts of town, two things taggers usually do.
And while they say the Beaumonts are not considered suspects in the case, they say they haven't ruled them out, either.
So who are these people, how did they end up in Prescott and who is supporting them?
Their press releases and background fact sheets portray them as a husband and wife with solid educational experience who landed in Prescott for a School to Work community college job. Both claim to have years of experience teaching. A few years ago, they say, they decided to give up their $100,000-a-year jobs and devote themselves to fighting bullies and making schools safe places in which to learn.
"Kids have to be able to be in an atmosphere that is secure and an environment that encourages you to open yourself up and allow yourself to learn," Rod Beaumont says. "Otherwise the learning process is thwarted."
They say the Safe Schools, Safe Students group -- which started the anti-bully hotline -- is a 501 (c)(3) tax-exempt organization. Therefore, all contributions to them are tax-deductible. But IRS and corporate paperwork shows the organization that actually has that nonprofit, tax-exempt status is School to Work Publications, the Beaumonts' Prescott-based business that published a newsletter about school-to-work issues (aimed at how to get students better prepared for the work force). Beaumont has claimed his Paradigm Group International, an educational consulting group with vague goals of improving educational systems across the globe, is also a nonprofit organization recognized by the IRS. He also claims it did $2 million in business a few years ago. But the federal identification number used for that group and School to Work Publications, as well as the Safe Schools, Safe Students anti-bully hotline, are all the same one.
Many of the lofty claims made by the Beaumonts in person and in background biographical materials are difficult to prove -- that Rod Beaumont worked in 123 different countries in 1985, for example, and that as an airline transport pilot, he has flown sea and land aircraft for such clients as the CIA. Some couldn't be proved or disproved, such as his educational background. He says he received an undergraduate journalism degree and a master's in education and communication from the University of Birmingham, England, and a doctorate in communication from St. Andrew's in Scotland. (Officials at both institutions say they had no readily available record of him attending there, but cautioned that a more careful search might turn up some verification.)
But some of Beaumont's claims were found to be untrue:
He calls himself a best-selling author, a reference to the Ferguson's Guide to School to Work published in 1999.
"I wouldn't call it a best seller," says Ferguson editor Andy Morkes. He says the Chicago publishing company, which provides career guides for schools and libraries, can't divulge sales figures for the book. But he says it never went to a second printing and he notes that the firm's top seller -- an encyclopedia of careers -- has sold about 25,000 copies. And actually, the book Beaumont claimed to have written was a compilation of information taken from federal School to Work office bulletins.
Beaumont calls himself an "education practitioner and visionary for the next century." He also claims to serve in a "top" position on a UNESCO task force. But the head of that task force -- ironically, an effort to protect children from the dangers of the Internet -- says his name doesn't even ring a bell. Attorney Parry Aftab, the head of the committee Beaumont claims to be on, says, "Even if I had appointed him to something, we haven't heard a thing from him since."
Beaumont and the anti-bully hotline also claim to have a host of influential people and organizations backing him. Many of them say it isn't so.
At the top of the organization's board of directors list (a December 20, 2000, document notarized by Beaumont himself) is the name of former Arizona governor Rose Mofford. Her name and Rod Beaumont's are set apart from the rest, as if they co-chair the board.
But Mofford says she never agreed to serve on the board.
She remembers chatting with Beaumont last spring about his Safe Schools, Safe Students idea -- initially a plan to disseminate a newsletter helping schools get more secure. She says the idea seemed like a good one and she told Beaumont that "I would certainly be glad to help . . . they didn't say anything about being on the board."
Mofford says she hasn't heard from the group since and didn't know it had evolved into an anti-bully hotline. Had it asked her to be a director, she says, she would have declined. She's already on the board of 35 other groups.
"That's news to me," says Beaumont. He says Turner made arrangements with Mofford and he believed she and two legislators had agreed to be on the board.
Those two legislators resigned from their posts last month. State Senator Mary Hartley says she met with Beaumont last spring as well, checked with the state of Delaware (where his organization is incorporated) to make sure it had no complaints about Beaumont's group, and agreed to be a director. At the time, she says, it seemed like sending informative newsletters out to schools and district board members was a helpful idea. But, like others contacted by New Times, she says she never attended any board meetings (even though corporate bylaws require an annual meeting every July 15) and barely had time to read all their e-mails. She resigned her post about two weeks before New Times called to verify that she was on the board.
State Representative Linda Binder resigned from the board right after Hartley did. Her spokesperson says Binder had no idea she was listed as a director, she knew nothing about the anti-bully hotline and that she submitted her letter of resignation as soon as she found out the group considered her a board member.
Shane Doan, the Phoenix Coyotes right wing, comes next on the list of board members. The poster boy of the anti-bully Web site, Doan often is touted in press releases as the group's celebrity spokesman, a great guy who cares about kids, a close ally in the war against bullies, someone who has been working diligently to raise sorely needed funds.
He was featured in Safe Schools press releases in mid-January as being the source of a fund-raising challenge between his fans and those of Joshua Schwartz, an 18-year-old unknown "teen spokesperson" from Pennsylvania. The challenge, according to the anti-bully news releases, went like this: The first one to raise $10,000 by January 31 won, but if Schwartz's fans raised more, Doan would match that amount up to $50,000.
(A Web site listing of donations shows Schwartz raised nothing and Doan's fan club contributed $100.)
But Rich Nairn, vice president of media and player relations for the Coyotes, says nearly all of those claims are untrue. He says Doan was surprised to read about his idea for the fund raiser in press releases provided by New Times.
Doan may be a great guy who wants to help kids. And he did help launch a computer-based peer mediation program with Safe Schools and First Frontier, a Canadian child-help group, more than a year ago. But he is not one of their directors, he never issued any fund-raising challenge, nor did he pledge up to $50,000. And he was bewildered by a press release announcing an hourlong news conference in Philadelphia in the near future featuring him and Schwartz.
"He doesn't have a current relationship with the organization," says Nairn. "I think they are just using his name to further their cause."
After speaking to New Times last week, Nairn contacted the Safe Schools group, who then posted a news release on their Web site announcing Doan's "retirement" from his role as spokesperson for the organization.
Beaumont, who says Doan was "understandably miffed," blamed a breakdown in communication due to a change in Coyotes ownership.
Two supporters of the anti-bully group are also listed as board members. Stan Turner, the former employee who believes the group is accomplishing important things, says he did agree to be a director long ago. But he was not aware that the group still considered him one. And Bill Walz, Superintendent of Schools in Hoonah, Alaska (population 975), says he also accepted an invitation to be on the board. He says Rod Beaumont came to his two-school district in the fall of 1999 and put on an impressive post-Columbine training session to prepare teachers for an emergency.
He says Beaumont did an excellent job and appeared very knowledgeable. And, he says, he has a good Web site.
On that site (stopthebully.org) are other suspicious endorsements. One page includes direct quotes from British celebrities touting the hotline and Safe Schools' work. But the colorful page is a near duplicate of one that appears on the ChildLine, a U.K. hotline Beaumont says he used as a model for the Prescott version. On that British Web site, the same celebrities say the same things, only the word "ChildLine" appears in place of "Safe Schools."
The result is some bizarre endorsements by people not well-known in the U.S.
Fighter Prince Naseem Hamed, for example, says, "Please have a look at Safe Schools advice on bullying or if you want to talk, give Safe Schools helpline a call." Louise, who declares "I love Safe Schools [sic] website!" looks like she could be a young person who actually called the Prescott hotline, but she's really a British pop singer who has helped ChildLine. And one of the supporting quotes is a bit confusing because of sloppy altering. English soccer star Ian Wright implores, "Please read Safe Schools advice -- it's spot on! If you need to talk things through, ChildLine is there to help you."
An e-mail to ChildLine to check if the USA anti-bully group had permission to copy, then change, the endorsements went unanswered.
A letter on the Safe Schools Web site from Vice President Al Gore, dated January 13, 2000, and accompanied by the vice presidential seal, could not be authenticated. Gore's press representatives were packing up and moving out when New Times called and never did get back with an answer about whether the letter was genuine. In it, Gore commends the Safe Schools program and says Shane Doan will be a great spokesperson for the group because he is a good "roll model [sic]."
The organization claims to have the endorsement of dozens of governors and attorneys general across the country. "Including the Arizona attorney general," Beaumont says. But Pati Urias, spokesman for Arizona Attorney General Janet Napolitano, says that's not true. The office has not endorsed the anti-bully group.
Another alliance touted on the Web site and in personal conversations is the group's partnership with the Arizona Association of School Resource Officers (police officers assigned to middle and high schools around the state) and its national umbrella organization. For more information on this working relationship, Beaumont told New Times to call Dave Kamleiter, a Scottsdale police officer who heads the Arizona group and sits on the executive committee of the national board. He even spelled out Kamleiter's name.
But Kamleiter says neither he nor the Arizona or national officers' group supports or endorses Safe Schools, Safe Students.
"We have done nothing with that organization," he says.
Kamleiter says after the group approached them for money, he and another police officer visited the Prescott office in December. While there, he says, the phone rang maybe three times over a three-hour period.
The group continues to ask the organization for money, he says.
"We don't do business with them because we can't substantiate what they are doing," Kamleiter says.
Beaumont says his group and the police organization had a misunderstanding, but will be working together informally.
In its own backyard, Safe Schools has built a relationship with one charter high school, using students as volunteer peer mediators in exchange for course credit. But Prescott police say while Beaumont claims to be heading an important international effort, he hasn't had much to do with other key players in town, including their department or other schools.
In fact, Sergeant Mike Kabbel, head of the department's community services division, is hard-pressed to say anything nice about the organization at all.
"As far as any service that the business is providing to this community, here or anywhere, I don't know of any," he says.
The teenagers who volunteer at the anti-bully center believe they are doing good things.
Louie Koch, age 16, Kat Beaumont, 14, and Jared Phillips, 15, say they know they are helping every time someone thanks them at the end of a phone call. They have no training manual or script to refer to when a kid or parent calls in. Nor are they monitored by an adult. But they say they know how to handle most calls: Tell the kid to talk to an adult about their problem, assure them -- if they are the victim -- that it wasn't their fault and reinforce their right to learn in a safe environment. They refer callers to their Web site for more information, where there is a list of tips for parents and kids -- and they pass on the suicidal calls to an adult, usually Rod or Mary Beaumont.
The Beaumonts readily admit they have no training in counseling or psychology, but say they have learned a lot through research, six months of on-the-job training and classroom observations.
Chuck Saufler, a school counselor who directed a three-year bullying project for the state of Maine, says a hotline might have some merit if those who answer the calls give good advice and refer the callers to legitimate organizations that can provide help. And Sue Limber, the Clemson bullying expert, says the benefits -- or harm -- that can come from such a hotline would depend on its purpose.
"If the purpose of the hotline is to provide general information, that's one thing. But if they are getting calls from very distraught and suicidal kids, that takes a certain level of expertise and sensitivity to deal with that," she says. "I would hope that someone in that position would have some special training."
The teenagers who man the lines also perform other functions -- surfing the Internet for statistics and planning fund raisers. Jared, who was attracted to the organization after seeing all the media coverage of the fourth graffiti attack, proudly displays a business card that describes him as an "advertising rep" and "peer mentor." Rod and Mary are so busy with things like applying for grants that they leave the grassroots fund-raising to the kids, they say. And Jared, with three weeks of experience under his belt, is charged with selling ads for the Safe Schools newsletter. (He says many firms have been extremely rude to him when he calls for support.)
The teens say they can be more effective talking to young people because kids can relate to them. Jared says that, as a gay teen, he has experienced plenty of bullying, discrimination and assaults. Louie, who is performing community service hours at the center for his part in an armed robbery, says after spending months in the Madison Street Jail with mostly minorities, he can relate to complaints of bullying based on race. And Kat says even if her parents didn't run the place, she'd probably want to work there anyway.
The teenagers say they come in every day after school and often on the weekends to man the phone lines. They generally put in two or three hours on weekdays and more on Saturdays.
But all are stumped when asked how many calls they usually take, say, in a two-hour shift. They just can't say. "You'll have to ask my dad," says Kat.
Pressed to give a mere estimate not of daily or total calls, but how many each of them handles on a given day -- Two? Fifty-two? -- they refuse to answer. "It's on the Internet," Kat says.
Rod Beaumont also seems suddenly statistics-shy. In the hotline's early months, numbers were trumpeted in the headlines of press releases. "Student Anti-Bullying Hotline Receives Its 125,000 Contact in 35 Days; Prevents at Least 6 Suicides by Teenagers" read one. Another declared: "Crisis Hotline Tops 250,000 Contacts." And those releases always included pleas for money to expand the center's phone capacity.
But these days, Beaumont claims other people were hung up on statistics.
"Everybody wanted to focus on numbers," he says. "It's more important to focus on what is being done. If we've saved one kid from committing suicide or helped some kid stop the abuse that he'd been subjected to, that is worth more to us."
The organization hopes to expand its operations into other U.S. cities, go truly international with a Web-based chat system and embark on a national road tour in which sponsors could buy advertising space on Beaumont's Land Rover to draw attention to the hotline's efforts. But for now, Beaumont says, the group is focusing on the "critical need" for financial stability.
The latest fund-raising campaign takes a new tack. Abandoning the idea of corporate sponsorships, the group is seeking to raise $250,000 over the coming year by asking everyone touched by bullying to send in one dollar.
At the headquarters, the "peer mentors" who answer the phones and plan fund raisers are pumped. They think this idea just might work. Jared is trying to think of a catchy slogan while Kat contemplates the possibilities.
"Just a dollar from everyone in the country would be a lot of money," she says.
"Just one dollar from everybody in Prescott would be a lot of money," Jared adds.
In front of them, a multi-line telephone aimed at eradicating bullies, saving lives and making schools safe for students sits silent.
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