In the Talmud, we are admonished that if you take a life, you also have destroyed all of the generations that might come from that individual. Conversely, we are told that if you save one life, it is as though you have saved the world. I am not certain of the early life of Nicole Jon Sievers, but it appears that her mother, Linda Carroll Barraud, engraved this message in indelible ink on young Nicole’s psyche.
For over 25 years, Sievers has worked tirelessly and with complete devotion to improving the lives of adolescents and teens. She is all about promoting justice and encouraging resiliency. This passion is demonstrated by the many hats she’s worn to aid and inspire children as an Imago (relationship) therapist, a teacher, an educational district consultant, an Outward Bound instructor, and an author. Most recently, this busy heart has dabbled in film production with a documentary, Upstanders, coming out on IndieFlix next month.
In 2011, Sievers founded Stand for Courage Foundation (www.standforcourage.org) after learning statistics on bullying in this country. Through her own social work clients and experiences in group homes in Oregon, Nicole understood that beyond re-educating the bullies themselves, it was far more important to reach the bystanders, and empower them to stand up to those who would intimidate and abuse others. Armed with the information that 90 percent of bullies crave attention, Sievers felt there was another way to furnish this that could reverse the problem.
What makes the program so successful and unique is that it is virtually student-led and peer-driven, executed and based on incentives, that we humans are programmed to seek.
This program has shown over a 69 percent reduction in bullying and its aftermath, which often includes suicidal ideation. Those most at-risk are youths who are the outliers, frequently LGBTQ children or immigrant children. By giving teen leaders clear markers and tools to help students see themselves and each other as important, impactful and skilled, peers begin to see their similarities instead of their differences. Everyone has been a target, and, through tacit approval, everyone has been a bully. This program allows everyone to save face and grow towards peaceful resolution. The author refers to a “positive call-out culture.” Rather than shaming or blaming, the program provides a forum for teens to think about their actions and consequences that will bring about a more harmonious world. Thanks to the Foundation’s generosity, the program has been offered to schools gratis, but this is not easy to maintain.
Sievers has co-authored a book, It’s Your Mind. Own It, which illustrates the different wiring of the adolescent brain. The book is intended to help families find “a safe power journey rather than a journey of disconnect or torture.” Two other books are soon to be released. The One and Only You! is a workbook for children aged 9-13. The goal of the workbook is to provide these youngsters with the tools required to ward off depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts through Cognitive Behavior Therapy and mindfulness while recognizing and celebrating their unique gifts. A second book is a journal and poem created for the migrant children, entitled, The Traveler’s Light.
Sievers explained her perception that each of us is a traveler. We are all moving through this world, facing our own sets of challenges, but if we support each other, we can make the experience better, and ourselves better in the process.
Due to recent political and economic events, Sievers became keenly concerned about the separation of families at the border, and as a therapist knows that the trauma can result in long-term damage. After holding a very successful fundraiser in Seattle with a few friends, Sievers had amassed $135,000 dollars to pay attorneys to reunite families. Incredible? Yes, but that’s not all. Knowing she could not rescue every family or every child, Little Mercies was born. Sievers, along with the help of a nurse and philanthropist, Rebecca Ebsworth, came up with a very achievable, very human goal. Stuff a backpack! Everyone can fill a backpack with food, toys, educational items, clothing etc. The idea was born while Sievers was stuffing her own 11-year-old son’s backpack, and she thought, “I can do this for another child.”
Sievers visited many shelters in San Diego and Mexico and recruited other skilled professionals to provide dental care, blankets, medicine, and other necessities. However, the best part is that the individuals who will be living in these shelters are plugged into the rehab programs: fixing up playgrounds or reforestation efforts. Taking an active part, feeling useful and preserving dignity is every bit as critical as having food to eat or a place to sleep. “We have an incredible responsibility to take care of each other. Life circumstances are out of our control sometimes,” I was told. Sievers wanted to underscore that all of her work is an interrelated loop of self-care and community care. “We all need both and one without the other simply isn’t integrated enough to be sustainable,” she said. The Dignity Project is still in development, but it is sure to impact everyone in a positive way.
Little Mercies is very fortunate to have a friend in singer/songwriter/activist Peter Yarrow. After his co-founding Operation Respect, an accolade-winning program to create respectful and safe places for youth, this compassionate musician joined forces with Linda Carroll Barraud in 2019 to form justoneatatime.org. The mission of this organization is to bring “education, aid and hope to the most vulnerable populations in Tijuana, Mexico.” The premise is that every single one of us can take part in creating a better world, one person at a time. To make this dream a reality, Yarrow will be performing at an as of yet undisclosed, intimate venue on February 28, 2020. All proceeds will benefit Little Mercies and One Story at a Time.
The world is vast, and we are all travelers along the road, but a journey shared lightens the load.
Keep your eyes open for more information about Peter Yarrow’s benefit concert and visit littlemercies.org to become a part of the solution. Who knew saving lives could be so easy?