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Big hopes for the Be Someone campaign in the new year

Port Coquitlam businessman Gary Mauris came up with the idea of the Be Someone anti-bullying campaign after witnessing a video made by Amanda Todd before she died. - DIANE STRANDBERG/THE TRI-CITY NEWS
Port Coquitlam businessman Gary Mauris came up with the idea of the Be Someone anti-bullying campaign after witnessing a video made by Amanda Todd before she died.
— image credit: DIANE STRANDBERG/THE TRI-CITY NEWS

A Port Coquitlam entrepreneur is using his business networks and moxie to spark what he hopes will be a national anti-bullying campaign that will put the city on the map as the capitol of kindness and compassion.

Like many around the world, Gary Mauris was shocked and saddened by the death of PoCo teen Amanda Todd and the circumstances that surrounded her Oct. 10 suicide.

But, unlike most people who simply watched her poignant video, posted anonymous comments and consumed a diet of social media conjecture, Mauris got busy, putting the drive and energy he used to build a national mortgage company into the Be Someone/I Am Someone campaign, that, if all goes as planned, could really go somewhere.

"I was sad. I was just blown away," Mauris recalled of the day over two months ago when Todd's death made the national press. "Honestly," I had a lot of questions. How could it get this far?"

Be Someone campaign launch

He got the news on a national flight from a business meeting; read the Port Coquitlam dateline and Todd's age, 15, the same age as his daughter, and his heart hurt, he said. When he met Todd's mother, Carol, the bullying issue became a personal mission.  "We all care abut the loss of our children. But caring is not enough," he said, and with the the vision of Todd's last card and the words "I am alone, I need someone" running through his head, the idea for the campaign took root.

"I'm someone," he recalls thinking.

Two weeks later at a business forum, the founder of Dominion Lending Centres, who happens to also have grown up here, was asked to what to do to make the city more favourable for investors. Instead of touting the usual cutting red tape, marketing to the world, blandishments, Mauris mused about how PoCo had become the "eye of the storm," and not in a good way.

"Could the business community get behind an initiative to end bullying, to do something to prevent future Amanda's from happening?" he wondered.

Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore, who had never met Mauris before, heard the passion behind Mauris' plea, and was one of a number of people to get behind his vision.

"It kind of called everybody out, it was good," Moore said. The PoCo mayor was on the same page as Mauris and within a few weeks the Be Someone/I Am Someone campaign had been sketched out.

Mauris' own Dominion Lending Centres — named by Profit Magazine as one of the country's fastest growing companies  (it was ranked 32 out of 200 by the 'zine this year) — fronted much of the up-front costs and is doing a lot of the heavy lifting. It has provided the PR, the branding, the t-shirts, bracelets, posters and the I Am Someone stickers for businesses to put in their windows indicating they are a "safe haven" for bullied kids.

His tech people have developed the necessary software so kids who are being bullied can text the national Kids Help Phone (they can now only make a call to talk to a counsellor) and the testing platform should be ready to go next year. Any city can get free access to all the Be Someone marketing materials, stickers, texting platform and charitable foundation,  a "business in a box" in Mauris' parlance.

Much of the success of the campaign depends on his own personal drive, energy and commitment — and his extensive business network — but as an example of someone who prefers to "do" rather than simply talk, he is, for many, an inspiration.

Jay Seabrook, vice-president of operations at Dominion Lending, isn't surprised to see Mauris move the campaign from idea stage to roll out in such a short time. "He's like the top of the top," Seabrook said of Mauris' drive and energy, and his boss is also a great "ideas guy," he said. But Seabrook acknowledged the timing is also right for the Be Someone/I Am Someone campaign. "I think everyone can relate to this," Seabrook said.

On the wall in Mauris' PoCo office is the word "Yes," which the former mixed martial artist says is his mantra for customer service and growing his business, but getting to "yes" so everyone gets what they need is how he runs his life, too. "There are so many people who are smarter, but I'm passionate," he admits.

 

I am someone stickersThough still in its early stages, much progress had been made in a relatively short time. Once legal issues are worked out, PoCo could be the first B.C. city with an anti-bullying bylaw early next year. Mauris is also producing a video with CEOs from across the country giving testimony about the importance of joining the campaign and stopping bullying. A national tour is being planned, and was announced at the recent Snowflake Walk to End Bullying, featuring pop singer Elise Estrada, who wrote and dedicated her hit Wonder Woman to Todd. Mauris hopes to reach out to youth with the musical tour, and, with a charitable foundation managed by the Vancouver Foundation, and the Port Coquitlam Youth Society, he expects new anti-bullying education and efforts to be developed also targeted to young people.

Mauris is really excited about the work being done to connect struggling youth with counsellors on the Kids Help Phone via text; the technology has been developed, but more work needs to be done to connect with resources so other communities can use the platform, as well.

"I didn't look to get into an anti-bullying campaign. But I'm in it now and I want to see it in every single city," he says.

There are, however, challenges ahead. Much work needs to be done to create a formal structure to handle the day-to-day work of promoting and managing the campaign for the long haul, the same way the Terry Fox Foundation raises millions for cancer research with volunteer runs across the country. Mauris would like to see a similar structure for this anti-bullying initiative, noting that the community must get behind the issue of bullying — whether online or personal, in school or at work, among straight or gay, young or old — to make it as socially unacceptable as smoking and drinking and driving.

"The message is it's not cool to turn a blind eye to bullying. Even if the conversation is just about 'being kind;' If we can have that kind of conversation, we can make a difference."

dstrandberg@tricitynews.com

 

 

 

 

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