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Kentucky by Heart: Heather Proffitt faces scourge of bullying head-on with ‘The Kid Who Dared to Dream’

By Steve Flairty
NKyTribune columnist

Heather Proffitt knows that the act of bullying is one of the most distasteful elements intruding upon our American society. It’s not uncommon amongst adults, either, but it is, in fact, rampant within the everyday lives of our children — both in schools and other public areas, along with social media.

And for those vulnerable ones, the effects of negative words, shunning, and even physical assault are often brutal, causing depression, low self-esteem, health problems, poor grades, and even suicidal thoughts.

Living in Louisville as an educational consultant and author, as well as a single mother with five children, Heather decided to fight the terrible scourge of bullying by writing a book, called The Kid Who Dared to Dream. In it, young Adrian, the protagonist, has a recurring dream that leaves him with an ominous sense of trepidation and causes him difficulty in sleeping. Though the setting of his dream is in a school unfamiliar to him, and he sees himself wearing a t-shirt having the word LEADER on the front.

As the dream progresses, Adrian sees examples of students bullying other students. Those individuals have words such as GOSSIP, BULLY, and FOLLOWERS on their shirts. Adrian sees himself hanging with a contrasting group of students nearby. They wear shirts with words such as HONESTY, GENEROSITY, KINDNESS, and EMPATHY.

The storyline is easy to understand for young readers, yet also offers great insight for adults. There is a happy ending, with the efforts of many students acting in a proactive and positive manner overcoming the negativity of the bullies. In short, the story offers a practical way for young and old to handle the shameful practice of bullying. I’ll note that with spending most of my adult life working in schools and seeing bullying in person, I highly recommend the work, which is beautifully illustrated by artist Randy Gray.

And how did the book originate?

Heather Profitt with four of her kids (Submitted photo from Heather Profitt)

“The Kid Who Dared to Dream was born from a combination of my experiences with my son’s schooling journey and the experiences of other students I encountered while teaching middle and elementary school,” explained Heather. A keen observer of such behaviors, she noticed the personalities of students and how their confidence and self-talk impacted their interactions with others in schools. “A lot of the phrases I use in the book are derived from the direct phrases I used when talking to students and are things I hoped they would remember in their life journeys.”

Ironically, Heather noted that her son received some bullying from adults while in elementary school and that it “weighed on us emotionally.” The writing of the book helped her process those emotions while providing a positive lesson to effectively handle the bullying–for her own son’s perspective as well as others.

“I believe that we have a responsibility to build confidence in kids and give them the tools to combat hate with love, positive leadership, and good choices in influences and friends,” said Heather. And that includes teaching ones the inspiration to not take the “irreversible leap of ending their lives,” she added.

Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of seven books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and six in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #5,” was released in 2019. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly NKyTribune columnist and a former member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at sflairty2001@yahoo.com or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.” (Steve’s photo by Connie McDonald)

Besides the book, Heather leads in other ways to advocate for the well-being of the young. She started Sunflower Education Services Inc (SES)., a nonprofit 501c-3 organization after she left her teaching career a few years back. Though being out of the public classroom, former students’ families were reaching out to her for advice, relying on her astute perception of their needs.

“During my time working with young people, I hypothesized that the deprivation of life experiences was a core contributing factor to the achievement gap,” she said. “I would take clients at discounted rates or free when they couldn’t afford to pay me. I also have five kids of my own and I know how difficult it is to afford all of their activities. At the same time, I know how essential those activities, like art, chess, summer camps, music lessons, and coding camps are to the growth and development of kids, especially in our world today.”

The mission of SES, she said, is to “help teens and young adults discover their passions, strengths, and interests through experiences, activities, and engagement.” Efforts are made to connect them to mentors. Subjects are shown how to monetize their interests and skills. Educational and other resources are brought to under resourced communities. During the pandemic, SES ran a community learning center while schools were closed during the pandemic. Educational trips for small groups are another important feature.

“Sunflower currently has an online quick recall and academic trivia session every Thursday from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.,” noted Heather. “Sunflower is also sponsoring a Spanish/English conversation club for ages 17 and up. Participants will meet at different restaurants throughout Louisville on Thursdays from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. Both programs are free and registration is available at www.sunflowereducation.org.

With the rigors of raising her own kids, ages six through nineteen, along with her passion to help others, Heather keeps herself plenty busy. She currently home schools two of her children (the other three were previously homeschooled) and directs her SES activities. Fortunately, she has support from loved ones. “My family in Louisville helps me a lot with everything I do and is the reason I see the world through such a positive lens,” she said.

The Kid Who Dared to Dream, along with other items and more information, is available through Heather’s website. Every purchase on the site goes toward funding the mission activities of the program. She is available to speak or do readings throughout Kentucky and surrounding areas. Other contacts are on Facebook (Heather Proffitt), Instagram SunflowerEducationInc, or TikTok (personal) @SupermomSuperWoman.

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