Making it better for the next generation

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Brittnay and Johnny Wittnebel with The Youth Unite are presenting assemblies with an anti-bullying message to area middle schools.

The Youth Unite is offering new anti-bullying assemblies, and is planning a move into a permanent home at The Castle, 501 Prospect St., in June.

Brittnay Wittnebel and her brother, Johnny, are doing interactive, multi-media assemblies to raise awareness and prevention of bullying. Their mother, Jody Wittnebel, said the Character Education Assembly is written by the young, and for the young.

The Youth Unite (TYU) already has performed at Aldrich Middle School and at Parkview Middle School, but organizers say they would like to present at more area middle schools.

“It gives kids tools on how to cope, and schools like it because it is character education,” said Jody Wittnebel, TYU president.

Brittnay Wittnebel, a Beloit College graduate, Miss Madison Capital City 2011 and 2008 Miss Beloit, created TYU, a non- profit organization, in collaboration with Beloit College. Today TYU hosts concerts and events for youth, produces DVDs to spread the message of anti-bullying, runs a 24-hour help-line website and is offering the assemblies. TYU recently obtained a Ecolab grant of $2,500 to really amp up its offerings.

Brittnay’s brother, Johnny, secretary of TYU, helped produce the entertaining yet thought-provoking assemblies. They include video clips such as Yoda giving advice on being a Jedi Master to keep kids’ attention. Johnny can also do his rap, “Stop, Turn and Walk Away.”

Jody Wittnebel said the assemblies have a unique viewpoint, being produced by young people. Empathy, the Golden Rule and one’s conscience also are stressed.

When young people go to the TYU website, they can send an e-mail to describe their experience being bullied when they feel they have no one to talk to, and Brittnay or Johnny will personally respond to them. Those bullied can also read the stories, with the names changed, of others who have gone through similar situations.

“Encourage other people, show empathy to one another and be conscious about what you say and how it affects other people,” Brittnay Wittnebel said.

And she would know. Brittnay said she and her brother were bullied as kids when they were new in town about not fitting in, her hair color and religious beliefs. Even today she gets teased a bit over being in beauty pageants.

She said sometimes the worst form of bullying can be what she calls relational aggression, where people are not talking to someone, purposefully not inviting someone to a party and talking behind one’s back.

“Relational aggression sometimes can hurt more than a punch to the face. It makes you struggle with your own identity,” she said.

Jody Wittnebel said there will be even more TYU youth events in store for the community.

In November, Wittnebel, purchased the former First Presbyterian church building at 501 Prospect St., Beloit, to transform into The Castle, a performing arts center. In addition to being available for use by Beloit International Film Festival, Beloit College, Beloit Janesville Symphony Orchestra and those planning weddings, corporate events, and presentations, the space will serve as a permanent home for TYU.

Wittnebel said there will be a focus on family friendly events at The Castle, with concerts for teenagers as well as special events and educational activities for parents and little ones. Jody Wittnebel said there needs to be more activities for kids and families on the weekends, and noted not all young people are involved in sports. The Castle will give young artists a place to perform, and others a chance to enjoy and learn about the arts.

Brittnay Wittnebel, who is currently living in Florida, is planning on attending law school next fall, but will be responsible for marketing The Castle and will be flying in to speak at assemblies and other TYU events.

For more information on the assemblies people can call Jody Wittnebel at 608-346-3114.

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