After receiving more than $700,000 in donations following the release of a viral video of her being viciously taunted by a group of middle school students, Karen Klein has used the money to launch an anti-bullying foundation.
Klein, 68, is a retired school bus monitor from Greece, N.Y., who received donations from at least 32,000 people online in less than two months after the taunting videos were posted on June 19 and received more than eight million total views. Looking for something positive to do with a portion of the donations, she has created the Karen Klein Anti-Bullying Foundation.
“I thought it would be a great idea, and I’m hoping this foundation will seriously help all these kids,’’ Klein told TODAY.com. “It’s also not just kids. When you’re a kid being bullied, you should talk to an adult. When the adult is being bullied, I don’t know who the heck they can talk to. That’s why I want to help.’’Video: Bus monitor: ‘I want kids to stop bullying’ (on this page)
Klein never planned on becoming a symbol of anti-bullying, but has embraced the role after her story received international attention. In the three videos, which last a total of 14 minutes, Klein endures one profanity-laced comment after another from a group of students during a bus ride. The students called her “an elephant” and said they would egg her house, among other unprintable slurs and comments.
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One student went even further, saying, “You’re so ugly, your kids should kill themselves.’’ Klein’s son committed suicide 10 years ago. Despite the nature of the taunts, Klein did not retaliate.
“I’ve never been bullied myself until this happened,’’ she said. “I had no idea that this would come about, and I’m glad that it has. I didn’t know they were taking the video. I was oblivious. I heard these kids, but I didn’t think it was going to be something like this. It’s unreal, it really is.’’
In the first phase of her foundation, Klein will be part of a road trip named the “JNFE No Bully Tour’’ that begins in Myrtle Beach, S.C., on Oct. 5 and will travel across several states as part of the Pacer Center’s anti-bullying prevention month. At each event, a free concert will be given for youth organizations, grade schools and camps to spread anti-bullying messages.
Joining Klein on the upcoming tour will be Miss Teen USA, Logan West of Connecticut, who was a victim of bullying at a young age and has created her own anti-bullying program.
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“I’m excited,’’ Klein said. “Just being able to go to several different states and spread the message, and also be able to work with Miss Teen USA is going to be great.”
Klein decided to create the foundation after meeting with Chris Surrey, the senior director of Paintbox Labs, a New York-based organization that promotes cultural understanding. Surrey interviewed Klein for an unreleased documentary called “Bullying Behavior in America,’’ and she indicated to him that she would like to do something positive with the donation money.
“I told Karen we were not just going to do a foundation, but a foundation that would actually be doing something and not just putting money into an account,’’ Surrey told TODAY.com. “It was about her becoming an advocate of her own story. You rarely hear about kids bullying the elderly, so we wanted to use that as a platform to get into schools to assist them to curb the problem.”Video: Bullied bus monitor: Teasing ‘made me feel terrible’
Surrey also helped Klein’s foundation pair up with Stephen Paletta, the winner of Oprah’s “Big Give’’ show in 2008. He is now a philanthropist and creator of the GiveBack foundation.
“She had no idea she was going to get all this money, and so many people were calling and asking her for money,’’ Surrey said. “We felt if she had a foundation, it would stop those trying to get her money versus those with serious causes. She and her daughters wanted to do something on a bigger scale than just having her retire, go away and have the 32,000 people wonder what happened to that woman who got bullied and got all that money.’’
The upcoming tour was an immediate way for the foundation to take action. Klein has already created T-shirts for the tour that say, “Be a buddy, not a bully.’’ Also, considering she has experienced it in her own family and heard numerous sad stories from strangers since her story went public, suicide prevention is another part of her message.
“Kids that have been bullied commit suicide, and that’s too bad, so that’s a cause I have also been into,’’ she said.
“Her foundation and her story could save lives,’’ Surrey said. “Once she got the idea she could be involved, that's when she got excited.’’
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