I was beyond blessed and so thankful for the support form my naviHealth family. They supported our UpStander 5k with over 70 volunteers and crafted this video:

Spring Hill teen honored with anti-bullying award

Angela Fox Oct 23rd 2016

Sam Womack, recipient of the Friends to the Rescue UpStander Award, with his parents Tammy and Mike Womack.

Friends to the Rescue (FttR), a nonprofit organization whose mission is to prevent and stop bullying by empowering bystanders to become “upstanders,” has awarded its first-ever UpStander Award to Sam Womack, an eighth-grade student at Heritage Middle School. The award was presented to Womack, son of Mike and Tammy Womack of Spring Hill, for extending friendship beyond social boundaries.

The organization’s founder, Jim Torino, presented the award at a special ceremony on Oct. 10 at Thompson’s Station Park.

“Sam Womack exemplifies what it means to be an UpStander. He courageously came to the aid of another, regardless of the consequences for himself. The friendship he extended to a fellow classmate helped to protect him from bullying. The greatest part is that this is just Sam being Sam,” Torino said.

“As a parent, one of the greatest gifts you can receive is confirmation from others that your child is a quality person. Having Friends to the Rescue offer that confirmation in the form of a public award was just amazing. Sam has brought us great joy in his 14 years. He is a good student and athlete, but seeing him being recognized as an UpStander was my proudest parenting moment so far,” said his mother, Tammy Womack.

While Sam enjoyed receiving the award, his parents said he doesn’t believe he did anything out of the ordinary — he merely treated his friend like any other friend.

“I think that is one of the coolest aspects of the entire experience. This is not recognition of any grand gesture: He was simply being a friend and being himself,” Womack said.

When asked what advice she’d offer to other parents seeking to raise their children to stand up to bullying, Womack said, “Mike and I encourage parents to help their kids understand it’s not the big moments in life when everyone is watching that count the most, but rather it’s the everyday moments that can have the greatest impact and make a difference.”

FttR seeks to facilitate friendships that will close the gap between those who are bullied and those who can help. During the award ceremony, FttR board member Steve Anderson read a letter from fellow board member Jessica Lanzoni of Boston that said in part, “Research has shown that taking action or speaking up, rather than watching bullying behavior, can stop bullying behavior in only seconds.”

Friends and family gathered at Thompson’s Station Park for the first-ever Friends to the Rescue UpStander Award ceremony.

Friends to the Rescue is an initiative started by nonprofit organization The Friend Foundation. For more information on what it means to be an upstander, visit To nominate a student to receive a future UpStander Award or to learn more about how you can help stop bullying, email

Anti-bullying program helps empower bystanders

Angela Folds – July 3rd 2016

One out of four children is bullied in America each year.

Can you imagine what your life would be like if you had no friends? Friends play an important role in every stage of our lives. The support of friends is crucial to our development. Yet, for children with autism, acquiring friends is a challenge.

Autistic children often do not recognize the need for friends or possess the social skills necessary to acquire friends.

Individuals on the autism scale don’t make consistent eye contact, use few facial expressions, aren’t able to “read” the nonverbal cues of others and interpret conversation literally. They are often confused by humor, sarcasm, idioms and other non-concrete conversation.

Since other children do not understand the challenges that autistic children face, they often mistreat autistic children through acts of bullying.

That was the case when, as a third grader, Bridge Thouin transferred to a regular school bus as opposed to the special-needs school bus he’d ridden since he’d started school.

“Bridge was excited for the change, but some of the kids on the bus weren’t so welcoming and began bullying him,” said Bridge’s mom, Bethany Torino. “A kid with autism can’t really translate their emotions into a helpful response and cannot relay important details to parents, so we were unaware of the extent of the bullying until two of my younger children began telling us what was going on.”

The bullying on the bus continued until Bridge’s fifth-grade year, when the school took action and removed the main offender from the bus. It pained Bridge’s stepfather, Jim Torino, to witness the effects the bullying had on Bridge and to watch his wife struggle to help her son.

“For a parent, it is very troubling to know that your kid is being treated poorly. I had been through several instances with my children and felt so helpless. But Bethany had not been through it yet. She was so afraid for him and worried that the long-term effects on Bridge would be too much for him to overcome,” Jim Torino said. “She considered pulling him out of school, but felt that he would miss out on the great resources that (Williamson County Schools have) for Bridge.”

Dr. Michelle McAtee, a clinical psychologist at The Brown Center for Autism in Nashville, says she understands the impact that bullying has on children.

“Extensive research demonstrates that being bullied in school can have an impact on academic performance, as well as increase symptoms of depression. Many students become anxious or jittery in the school setting as a result of repeated bullying, and adults who were bullied as children are more likely to be anxious or depressed,” McAtee said.

According to the National Bullying Prevention Center, one out of four children is bullied in America each year, and 80 percent of those instances happen in front of a peer. Of those “bystander” peers, only 20 percent will be an “upstander,” or someone who stands up for the victim. Yet, in instances where an upstander intervenes, the bullying stops nearly 60 percent of the time.

“Even though Williamson County has great programs like the ‘Be Nice’ campaign and lots of resources that other counties may not have, bullying still exists here,” Jim Torino said. “Another son of mine was bullied for being an ‘upstander’ when he was in middle school. The situation was so bad that he found himself surrounded by a group of boys at a football game that were intent on physically harming him. It became clear to me just how real and extensive the problem is and made me think ‘What can I do?’ that might help other kids in the future.”

As a result, Jim Torino has founded Friends to the Rescue (FttR), a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help prevent and stop bullying by helping to empower bystanders to become upstanders. The organization seeks to facilitate friendships that will close the gap between those who are bullied and those who can help.

“Strong social support from peers can reduce the effects of bullying, and having strong friendships, even having one best friend, reduces the chances of a student being victimized. It is wonderful to see a program approach bullying prevention from the perspective of helping at-risk students develop friendships and networks of social support,” McAtee said.

Bridge Thouin was saved from bullying by kids who brought him into their group to protect him. Now, Jim and Bethany Torino are trying to help others like him.

“There is no reason for a child to be alone in instances of bullying and no reason for them to feel so helpless that they want to end their own life. I know we are better than that as a community. I am convinced that we can work together to get help to those who need it most,” Jim Torino said.

Go to to learn more about the program.

On July 16, The Brown Center for Autism is hosting its seventh annual Race Across the Spectrum: 5K for Autism in support of research-based early intervention for young children impacted by autism in Middle Tennessee. To learn more, visit

Independent writer and storyteller Angela Folds can be contacted at