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ASU alum operates anti-bullying program for girls

February 14, 2012

Carrie Severson knows how it feels to be left out and bullied.

As an adolescent growing up, she was teased because she carried extra weight. Through the years, she has learned to value herself through self-expression in the creative arts and to find a healthy relationship with food.

After the ASU alumnus graduated in 2000 with a degree in journalism, she found jobs working for local publications, but felt she wasn’t pursuing her true passion in life.

It was time for some serious soul searching – and that’s when Severson Sisters Foundation was born.

“I decided to create a bullying solutions program for girls, addressing self-esteem issues with creative outlets,” Severson said.

After spending 10 months in research and development, in June 2011 she launched her foundation – a non-profit that focuses on developing girls’ respect for themselves and others. The program – developed by teachers, school counselors, social workers, pediatricians and Severson – uses positive energy and behaviors via creative arts lessons as an alternative to bullying.

“The program combines a series of social circles, journaling, art, movement, dance and cooking to help girls place awareness on their emotions, thoughts, actions and expression in a playful, graceful, educational and inspirational way,” she said.

Girls are the focus of the program since they are prone to emotional and psychological bullying – tactics that can leave lasting scars on self-esteem, she said.  

Severson and her cadre of professionals are based in Scottsdale, but take their mobile program to locations such as Girl Scout meetings where they encourage girls to work on creative arts projects – building a gratitude card or a beautiful box with “power words” (intelligent, creative, etc.) of their choosing.

“While the girls are creating fun stuff, we bring in individuals with backgrounds in counseling to talk about school and things that have hurt their feelings,” Severson said. “Then we come up with an action plan.”

Heather Sanders’ 10-year-old daughter found the experience to be “really positive.” Girls had an easier time expressing themselves while they worked on creative projects rather than directly addressing issues, such as bullying, she said.

“It’s light and serious at the same time. It’s totally fun,” Sanders said.

When Sanders’ daughter participated in the program, she said that girls promised to eat with each other during lunch and to play together at school, negating the stress and sadness girls can feel when they don’t have anyone to hang out with.

The program also is meaningful. Sanders’ daughter still has the poster she made with her power words up in her room. Girls make personal promises to themselves about what they want to accomplish and make a “creative objective” such as a vision board or collage of images from magazines that make them happy and illustrate things they want to accomplish as well as characteristics that make them special.

Severson Sisters teaches three ways to take on bullies: verbally, by saying things such as “stop that” or “I don’t appreciate it;” non-verbally, by simply walking away and repeating affirming statements to themselves; and relying on the power of friends to help shield girls from bullies.

Role-playing makes up a portion of the training where girls learn to recognize what bullying is and how to recognize if they are doing it.

Severson is currently working on a customized program for the Girl Scouts for middle school girls using her program and the scout’s aMUSE journey to build self-esteem and combat bullying.

“We have a drop-off (in membership) between fifth and sixth grades that has a direct relationship to how girls feel about themselves,” said Margaret Spicer, program manager of the Girl Scouts – Arizona Cactus-Pine Council. “We want to give them the tools so they can build self-esteem and battle bullying.”

Feedback that Severson has received from girls has been good thus far with 96 percent of those surveyed responding positively after completing the program, she said.

Her work also is receiving complimentary reviews: Severson is a semi-finalist for the Glamour Magazine and Sally Hansen Best of You contest that honors women who make a difference in the world.