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Bloomfield Hills

April 10, 2013

Anti-bullying supporters ‘band’ together

By Elizabeth Scussel
C & G Staff Writer

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Chummie creators Amy Orlando, of Bloomfield Hills, and Kelly Casaccio, of Chicago.

From Slap Bracelets to Silly Bandz, it seems there is always a new fashion trend waiting to adorn the forearms of students across the country.

The newest trend in wrist wear is not only fun, it’s for a good cause.

Less than a month ago, sixth-grade teachers Amy Orlando, of Bloomfield Hills, and Kelly Casaccio, of Chicago, spawned their brainchild into a reality — with the birth of Chummies.

Chummies are vibrantly colored, interlocking friendship bracelets meant to highlight individuality and send a message of inclusion. They are sold in coordinating pairs — Peanut Butter and Jelly, Guitar and Amplifier, Sneaker and High Heel, and Macaroni and Cheese — to help complement unique personalities.

“As teachers, we observed what made our students excited,” Casaccio said. “We realized they were infatuated with anything that could be collected or shared with friends. We also talked about what we loved as kids, including friendship necklaces, but the problem was that you could only share the other half with one person. We saw the need for something kids could share and collect, and also send a positive message.”

The positive message in this case is putting an end to bullying. The women donate a portion of Chummie proceeds to PACER’S National Bullying Prevention Center and Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation to support the anti-bullying cause and spread awareness about tolerance and acceptance.

“Our message being one of inclusion and celebrating how unique we are, we felt that Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation was the perfect cause to donate to. Gaga encapsulates all that we stand for — being proud of the person you were born, and recognizing the beauty in others and ourselves,” Orlando said.

“Aside from being a teacher, I remember the prevalence of bullying when I was in school. It was bad enough then, but it is even worse now. Being able to teach health this year, I have dedicated an entire unit to bullying, and am proud to say that many students have come to me with issues to get ironed out before they get too big and too out-of-control. Working in a middle school for seven years, I’ve pretty much seen everything, and I have to say that social media has served as a big platform for this.”

Casaccio agrees that social media bullying has become an issue that needs to be addressed.

“Kids know how to keep bullying away from the eyes of the teachers and parents, which makes it harder to stop,” Casaccio said. “We have to get to the root of the problem and show them the importance of opening up to different types of people. If we can educate our youth about inclusion and truly open up their minds to people with varying interests and personalities, bullying will begin to decrease.”

Three weeks in, and things have been going smoothly, Orlando said. They’ve had sales from California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Oregon and Texas.

“It is still a bit surreal for us, I think, to actually see the website and talk about Chummies. When we received the first set of wristbands, we were almost in tears,” Orlando said.

“We had dabbled with a few investors for the company, but in the end, we felt our best deal was to fund it ourselves. Kelly and I especially love to have a hands-on approach with everything. We’ve made our website very interactive for the users — right now, we ask that people upload pictures, videos and songs to feature on our site. We also ask for suggestions on new pairs to create.”

Topping the suggestion list right now are chocolate and vanilla, flip-flops and sunglasses, iPods and headphones, and sports teams and logos.

“We are just so grateful that we have had the opportunity to see our vision become a reality. We only hope that, one day, we can see our message of inclusion become that same reality,” Orlando said. “My motivation is the kids, and the idea that I can make a difference in a child’s life. In business, and in teaching, it is the innocence, the energy, the smiles and the incredible things that they teach me daily that have driven me.  With Chummies, I want them to see each other the way I see them — as beautiful, unique individuals who can do anything that they believe in.”

For more information on Chummies, visit www.mychummies.com.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Elizabeth Scussel at escussel@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1037.