Unlike some of their Redmond apartment neighbors who moved away to keep a bully from tormenting their daughters, Esteban and Julia Mora Peralta decided their family of six wouldn’t run.
But the bullying became a never-ending source of stress and tears for more than a year as the girl taunted their oldest daughter, Ivon Mora Peralta, both at their apartment complex and at school.
Ivon told her parents that the bully threw scissors at her, constantly told her friends not to hang out with her and insulted her for her looks. At times, Esteban would risk losing one of the two jobs keeping him busy about 80 hours a week so he could go home and comfort Ivon.
Then Julia Mora Peralta, who has limited English-speaking skills, was referred to Youth Eastside Services (YES), a nonprofit that helps counsel and mentor youth so they can find strength when enduring difficult circumstances.
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Its Spanish-speaking staff was able to tell Julia they could offer her third-grade daughter counseling that would help undo some of the emotional trauma she’d undergone and make her strong enough to stand up to similar people in the future.
Of the at least 641 clients the nonprofit provided counseling for in 2013, about 30 percent are of Hispanic descent and 81 percent are low-income.
“It was so tragic because they were just literally going through every step they could go through to get help,” said Michele Loewy, Ivon’s eventual counselor at YES, one of 12 agencies that benefit from The Seattle Times Fund for the Needy. “They’re an immigrant family and have a lot going against them, so they were just awesome about finding a way to make their situation work out.”
Change wasn’t quick. The entire time Ivon went to counseling sessions with Loewy, she continued to face her bully at school and at the apartment complex.
But gradually, the counseling not only strengthened Ivon, but her parents as well. Being able to talk to the nonprofit’s Spanish-speaking staff became an unofficial source of counseling for them.
Speaking through an interpreter, Julia said it was nice to have someone to share the stress with. She said she thought Ivon started seeing that she had a lot of people who loved her and would help her.
Loewy taught Ivon to ignore unfair criticism, to tell her enemies to stop and to walk away from tense situations.
“It was really hard at first to ignore her, but it got a lot easier,” Ivon said.
A big turning point came for the entire Mora Peralta family when the bully’s mother yelled and insulted Ivon publicly at school because Ivon had been speaking up for herself more and asking for more help from adults at school.
Loewy said that moment helped make it more clear to school officials that harassment of Ivon had crossed the line. Both the bully and her mother were told to stay away from Ivon.
“It was really empowering for her,” Loewy said. “That happened about two-thirds of the way into her counseling, and by that time she had built something stronger up inside and outside.”
After about six months of counseling, YES transitioned Ivon into a mentoring program that paired her with Spanish-speaking Melissa Douglas, 33, in the summer of 2012. For a year, Ivon and Douglas met once a week for activities such as plays, carving pumpkins and talking things out more.
Douglas said at first they would talk about bullying every week. Sometimes while they drove around the Eastside, Ivon would not talk about the bully in favor of belting out a Taylor Swift song. But the topic eventually tapered off completely.
“I would say by December we wouldn’t talk about her as much,” Douglas said. “By summer, when I brought it up, she was like, ‘Who?’ ”
Ivon had also written and drawn a book about how to overcome bullying situations and was confident enough to present it to other children at a YES event.
Ivon, now 10 and in the fifth grade, doesn’t feel as though she needs to hide to protect herself anymore. Just as her parents wanted to see her do, she tells people bothering her to stop what they’re doing, then walks away. This school year, she goes to school early for a math and reading club and also plays soccer.
Even though Ivon knows she’ll be going to the same middle school as the girl who bullied her when she starts sixth grade next year, she’s looking forward to attending a new school.
“I have a friend over there already and she says it’s better than elementary school, so I’m excited,” Ivon said.
Alexa Vaughn: 206-464-2515 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @AlexaVaughn.