For the past couple of years, Westminster Christian senior Thomas (T.J.) North has been heading up a fundraiser for the community service club Students Offering Support called Bowling Against Bullies. The money raised goes to the Melissa Institute for Violence Prevention and Treatment, an organization that raises awareness about bullying.
The organization was named after Melissa Aptman, a Miami native who was murdered in St. Louis where she went to college. Her family created the Coral Gables based institute educate the public in hopes of preventing violence.
They also assist victims. The bowling event raises $3,000 – $4,000.
“Every member of the club is required to bring two friends,” North says. “We get to hang out and eat food and drink.”
Representatives from the Melissa Institute have gone to SOS meeting to educate the teens about bullying and how to stop if they see a bullying situation. The information he’s learned from the Melissa Institute has been helpful in his role as a peer counselor at Westminster.
“When I see people who do get bullied, it ends up that not only do they get bullied, they start thinking of themselves like the bullies do,” he says.
As a peer counselor, he works with students who contact him for help, to help them gain a more positive self-image.
“I help people that do come talk to me understand that the only thing that should matter to them is their self-happiness,” he says. “They have to set boundaries to the bullies.”
North says the students who come to him have a situation to work through, or sometimes they are feeling depressed or they need help to do the right thing.
“Usually more having to do with relationships,” he says. “Having to do with the opposite sex, or a friend, or a parent and they usually just need someone to listen to them or give advice.”
Everything is confidential unless he feels they might hurt themselves or others, in which case he is obligated to tell a counselor or call the police. The students sign a document acknowledging those terms.
In addition to being a peer counselor, North is involved in the drama club, Thespians.
“I just started drama last year,” he says. “This year I got to be one of the lead roles in the play, Pride and Prejudice (Mr. Darcy.)”
Last year, he competed with a large musical group in the drama competitions. The group made it to the state level where they received an excellent. He’s waiting to hear results of this year’s competition.
He’s also waiting to hear from the colleges he applied to, which include the University of Florida, Vanderbilt, Belmont University in Nashville, Florida State and the University of Miami.
He’s still deciding on whether to pursue economics or a degree in music business.
“I could not only work on my own music but be an agent,” he says.
Music is important to him. He plays guitar for fun and he writes his own songs. North’s a volleyball player and was junior varsity team captain and captain of the varsity last year.
Baseball was his sport until middle school when he discovered his love for volleyball
His love of sports led him to be an ambassador to Westminster for the Patriots Outreach program. Students involved in Patriots Outreach collect gently used sport equipment to be donated to children in impoverished areas of the Dominican Republic.
Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld