Nonprofit Spotlight: Beyond Differences
For this week’s nonprofit spotlight, we are thrilled to introduce Beyond Differences.
How did your organization get formed and what does it stand for?
Beyond Differences was founded in memory of Lili Rachel Smith, a high school freshman who experienced social isolation because she looked different due to a rare cranial-facial anomaly called Apert Syndrome. Lili passed away in her sleep from medical complications in 2009, and teens who knew her approached her family at her memorial with the desire to honor her life in a profound way. They had no idea at the time that they would touch a nerve in middle schools all over the country and develop programs to combat social isolation in youth, a problem that has reached epidemic proportions. Studies have shown that social isolation has a serious impact on not just self-esteem and academic performance, but also contributes to serious health consequences such as depression, loss of sleep, eating disorders and cardiovascular health.
Beyond Differences is the only student-led nonprofit organization and social justice movement dedicated to ending social isolation. The nonprofit organization believes that all teens should feel included, valued and accepted by their peers. Exclusion no longer needs to be an accepted part of middle culture and students can lead the way to make meaningful change in their community.
Where has your organization made the most impact?
Beyond Differences has had an enormous impact in middle schools through a combination of our curriculum, programs and national awareness days – our Positive Prevention Initiatives.
In 2018, more than 5,000 schools in all 50 states have used one or more of our Initiatives!
There are also three, soon to be four, cities in the United States who have local Beyond Differences professional staff and a volunteer high school Teen Board of Directors. These teens (more than 100 in total) provide in-school presentations to local middle schools and teachers are able to participate in professional development to increase their skills to utilize our curriculum.
Beyond Differences’ goal is to be in every middle school in the country, so while we are proud of our impact so far, we still have plenty of work ahead of us.
What is your organization most excited about?
We are so excited about our continued growth to accomplish our goal “to change the culture of middle school.”
In 2012, we rolled out our first No One Eats Alone™ in just a handful of schools to encourage students to sit with classmates they don’t know and spot students sitting alone and include them. We send schools a free backpack filled with everything they need to hold No One Eats Alone Day — curriculum for in-class exercises and discussions around social isolation, armbands, posters, balloons, conversation starters and a collaborative art project.
To combat negative rhetoric around cultural and religious differences, we launched Know Your Classmates™. We developed a unique curriculum and an Activity Kit to teach students about their identity and appreciate differences in others to increase acceptance and build strong communities within schools. Know Your Classmates focuses on breaking down barriers around cultural backgrounds, faith, family traditions, gender identity, immigration status and many more facets that make us who we are.
And, to nurture healthy relationships and combat social isolation online, we developed a Be Kind Online™. Students learn how to spot social isolation in the online environment, how to respond to digital gossip, and how to be authentic and true to themselves online.
In 2018, more than 5,000 schools in all 50 states have used one or more of our positive prevention initiative.
Can you share a story about your organization?
Watch Cierra’s story to learn about the power of Beyond Differences!
How can one get involved and support your organization?
Sign up your school for one of our free programs, volunteer or get involved in another way! Visit beyonddifferences.org.
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