News

Meet a Hero for Change

Be O.N.E. Project founder Matthew Kaplan will be honored at the Radio Disney Music Awards

April 25, 2014
COURTESY KAPLAN FAMILY

Matthew Kaplan (right), 17, poses with his brother Josh, 9. Josh inspired Matthew to create the Be O.N.E. Project, an anti-bullying program.

Katy Perry, Ariana Grande, and Austin Mahone are among the biggest music nominees for this weekend’s Radio Disney Music Awards. But Radio Disney doesn’t just plan to honor music stars. They’ll also present three young change-makers with a Hero for Change Award, including 17-year-old Matthew Kaplan, who was nominated by Youth Services America. The Radio Disney Music Awards will air on Disney Channel on Sunday, April 27, at 8 p.m. E.T.

In 2011, Matthew created the Be O.N.E. Project, a community-building and anti-bullying program for middle school students. He was inspired after seeing his younger brother become a victim of bullying. He initially developed the program just for his middle school, in Phoenix, Arizona. But when he saw there was a lack of anti-bullying programs serving students in middle school, he realized he could impact others. Since then, his program, which emphasizes “positive peer pressure,” has reached over 1,000 kids in three states. He spoke to TFK about the program and its impact.

TFK:

What is "positive peer pressure?”

MATTHEW:

That’s a really big component of the program and something that distinguishes us. When you hear the term "peer pressure," most people think of something negative. In the Be O.N.E. Project, I believe that we can take peer pressure and reverse it towards inclusiveness. What if it were cool to be kind?

TFK:

How did you see bullying affecting your brother?

MATTHEW:

It really shattered his self-esteem. He was a kid who was really confident, and then his closet friends turned on him. He was a victim of cyber bullying—which is something that I address as part of my program—and it was really a night-and-day difference. He withdrew into himself and started to become more shy and quiet.

TFK:

What tips do you give kids for dealing with bullies?

MATTHEW:

The biggest thing is that there are people who are there to listen and to help. You are not as alone as you think that you are.

TFK:

What about tips for kids who realize they have bullied others and want to set things right?

MATTHEW:

When we hear the word bullies, a lot of people think "bad person.” I don’t believe that a bully is a bad person. Bullying is a bad behavior, and that behavior can change. We have a few activities that really make kids see that their words are powerful. With my brother, it was really big for him. The kids who had been bullying him [apologized after the program] and today are some of his closest friends. I don't even think that they realized what they were saying was hurtful. 

TFK:

Is there any special impact you've made that's stood out to you?

MATTHEW:

At the end of the program, I turn the microphone over to the students and allow them an opportunity to make apologies or share something that they learned. A few weeks ago, I was at a school in Blacksburg, Virginia. There was a kid who was one of the first ones to get up, and he just said something very simple, like “I don’t usually feel like I have friends and that I’m able to connect with people but this program really helped.” And then he sat down. He was kind of an outcast. No one spoke much to him. He felt really unwelcome at school.

After he spoke, about six people lined up and each one apologized to that kid. Person after person not only said they were sorry, but told him that they would do better. He came up to me afterwards, and the smile on his face was incredible. I think that was a moment that probably changed his life.

TFK:

How did it feel to get this Hero for Change Award?

MATTHEW:

I was so surprised. There are so many kids out there doing great things for their community. To be a role model is awesome. My mom and I were screaming a little bit [when we got the news]. It was just a really cool moment.

TFK:

What are you looking forward to most about attending the Radio Disney Music Awards?

MATTHEW:

I’m exciting to be able to interact with the two other recipients [of the Hero for Change Award: Arianna Lopez, who created an anti-smoking project, and Yossy Rojas, who volunteers with the Boys and Girls Club of America on several projects.]. I’m also excited to see the awards in general. I think it will be really cool for [my brother] to see the show and maybe see me on the show.

TFK:

What advice would you give kids about being a hero for change?

MATTHEW:

You can see something in your community and recognize it as a problem. But to be a hero for change is to take it a step further, saying "I want to be a part of the solution"—and to take action. The action doesn't have to be big. It can as simple as opening a door for someone. You don’t have to create an organization or go out and change the world. You can change your little corner of the world.

 

Learn more about the Be O.N.E. Project at thebeoneproject.org.


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