Fighting Bullies

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.

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Laura Laughlin
Contact: Laura Laughlin