A 7th Grader is Defeating Bullying with Kindness
by Diane McMahon
Acacia Woodley is a 7th grader in a public middle school in Palm Bay, Fla. Nicknamed “Tiny”, she is the founder and leader of Tiny Girl, Big Dream, Inc., which she started in 2012 at the age of 10. Her company creates colorful custom Friendship Benches, which are finding their way to schools across America and Canada. Acacia said, “I wanted to create a place where a child can go if he or she is being bullied or having a bad day, and others can come sit on the bench to show friendship and support.” Her big dream is to place friendship kits and benches in schools around the world.
The mission of Tiny Girl, Big Dream comes from the life of a tiny girl born without complete arms, who despite her differences— perhaps because of them—intuitively knows what it feels like to be left out; not to be part of the “normal” group. Every child, indeed every person, experiences this feeling at some point. Very few have the empathy and drive to help other children who feel that way, and almost no one has started a global initiative to promote kindness and friendship. Acacia stepped in to remedy that.
Since 2012, Acacia has spent her free time spreading her vision of a world where kindness, compassion and humanity are recognized, appreciated and rewarded. This may sound lofty, but what compels people about Acacia—from elementary school children, to Superintendents of school districts; from individual mayors to huge crowds at the Grand Ole Opry—is her naturalness and disarming enthusiasm. More importantly she is making a real difference.
Acacia knows bullying is a huge issue. She’s seen its devastating effects first hand. When she decided to address the problem, she didn’t go the typical route—“just say no;” “stomp out bullies;” or create anti-bully zones. She decided to find out why bullies were bullying and help them deal with those reasons.
About a year ago, she was speaking at a school and afterwards the president of the school board stood up to speak and was in tears. He stood for a moment to gather his thoughts, “I finally get it. For so many years I have dealt with the problem of bullying. We as a country have spent millions of dollars in think tanks and anti-bullying campaigns only to see the problem grow. I finally understand we can never solve the problem that way because it isn’t about being anti-bully; it’s about being pro-friendship. Thank you Acacia.”
How does a little girl (she was 3’1” in fourth grade but now happily insists she is 5 feet and 3 centimeters) command the wisdom to understand what has eluded millions of adult experts? She explains, “We moved a lot and I was used to people staring and asking millions of questions. In third grade we moved to Arizona and the first day of school, during school assembly, I just decided to get up on stage and answer all their questions before they could ask. At first I was crying and I dragged my brother up there with me. But it turned out OK.” Acacia’s mother, Amber, adds, “The principal came out to my car after school and told me it was the most remarkable, moving thing he’d witnessed as an educator.” Her mother continues, “I know she was born to do this.”
Acacia says her idea really started after she moved to Florida in the middle of fifth grade. “From the first day, a really popular girl started being mean to me and for a few months there was a whole group of “mean girls.” I was really unhappy. I didn’t have any friends and I didn’t want to go to school. Finally, I decided to take it into my own hands. I invited her to my house and asked her why she was so mean. We talked for a long time. I found out a lot of bad stuff was going on for her at home. It made me understand bullies also need help.”
FUN FACT: Hilton Head Island has its own Friendship Bench at Hilton Head Preparatory School, donated by Jeri Thomas, owner of The Bleu Companies.
Soon after that, Acacia created the first “Friendship Bench,” hand-painted with her brother Cade. The original wood bench, placed in Acacia’s school, wasn’t durable. A local company called Knowledge Exchange found C.R. Plastic Products, a Canadian company that makes furnishings out of 100% recycled plastic. The whimsical benches are now “green” and indestructible.
Acacia credits her mother, Amber, Cade, Mayor William Capote and an expanding group of children and adult supporters for making her dream a reality. She is experiencing a mild celebrity around home. When she went to a movie and came out of the bathroom, a mob of 10-year-old girls were screaming, “It’s Acacia, can we have your autograph?” This is only the beginning for this remarkable girl with a huge heart and big dream.
"The only way to have a friend is to be a friend" — Ralph Waldo Emerson
For information on Friendship Kits; how to sponsor a Friendship Bench for your school; and how to support Tiny Girl, Big Dream go to: www.tinygirlbigdream.org or call 1-800-938-1912 or 1-321-848-2493