APOLLO BEACH – There is an epidemic among our youth today. It permeates through playgrounds, is prominent in classrooms and is sweeping social media. And whether a target or bystander, child or parent, no one is untouched – by bullying.
Despite increased education and awareness in schools, bullying remains rampant, especially within social media.
Enter Ruskin native, Jordan Palzer.
With the help of a college friend, the 26-year-old launched Hashtag Your Way six months ago. Due to the impact of social media, Palzer conceived a unique way to promote one’s favorite hashtag on a T-shirt.
Hashtag? It’s the ubiquitous pound sign – # – or “hash” that precedes a word or phrase in social media. The hashtag allows others to link to or search for a word or phrase to join a conversation or follow trending news on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
So while Palzer was looking for something different to wear one weekend, he came across a T-shirt inscribed #YOLO, which stands for you only live once, a popular acronym in youth culture. Soon he envisioned businesses creating product buzz or social media savvy individuals showing off the latest trend.
But the church youth director and son of a preacher wanted to do more.
While groups or individuals can order single or large quantities of hashtag T-shirts their way from his website, www.hashtagyourway.com, they can also join the anti-bullying movement with a #BullyFree T-shirt.
“Not only do I want to make some money,” said Palzer. “I (also) want to make a difference.”
Working with youngsters at Calvary Lutheran Church in Apollo Beach where he is youth minister, Palzer taps into issues facing kids today.
While his business is still getting off the ground, Palzer is reaching out to local schools and youth groups with his #BullyFree T-shirt message.
“My goal is to have a #BullyFree day across the county, the state and hopefully the nation,” said Palzer, who is currently balancing both jobs.
Second grade teacher Deanna Oliba, who taught at Cypress Creek Elementary in Ruskin for five years before transferring to Gandy Elementary in South Tampa last year, has a #BullyFree shirt and wears it to school on non-uniform days.
“I think it’s good for kids to see (it),”she said. “With social media, it’s something they can relate to, and remember – (and something) that reinforces what they are taught in school about bullying.”
While most schools enforce zero tolerance for bullying, according to stopbullying.gov, it’s actually not effective. Rather it takes a multiple approach involving the entire school community to create a culture of respect.
Dosomething.org reports that 71 percent of students report incidents of bullying as a problem at their school and 90 percent of fourth through eighth graders report being victims of bullying.
“By getting kids, teens and adults to wear our #BullyFree shirts, we know we are giving voice to those who feel they don’t have one,” Palzer said.
To purchase a #BullyFree T-shirt for $15 or order a personalized hashtag T-shirt for $20, visit www.hashtagyourway.com. For each #BullyFree T-shirt purchase, Hashtag Your Way donates 10 percent to anti-bullying organizations.
Elaine Speer is a freelance reporter and can be reached at [email protected]