When Grace and Jason Dascoli learned their son J.T. had , they got busy getting him the academic support he needed. What they didn’t know until later was that J.T. had been bullied at his elementary school.
Kids made fun of him when he couldn’t keep up in class. A note was taped to his school locker calling him “stupid.” J.T., a second grader at the time, suffered in silence. Nearly every day he ended up at the nurse’s office complaining of a stomachache. He went there so often he was dubbed “a frequent flier” by the school, his mom Grace says.
But neither J.T. nor his school told her about the stomachaches. She found out by accident months later. The mysterious stomachaches, it turns out, were J.T.’s response to the stress of dealing with his dyslexia and the bullying.
His experience isn’t uncommon. Between 25 and 33 percent of students in the U.S. say they’ve been bullied at school.
When she learned about the bullying, Grace, who lives near Boulder, Colorado, worked with the school to put an end to it. But she didn’t stop there. Grace knew there had to be a way to draw attention to the problem of bullying in school. She also wanted to get kids involved to prevent bullying from happening in the first place. She brainstormed several ideas and hit on a winner—the charms (or small ornaments) her kids loved to design, make and wear.
Charms were all the rage among elementary school students like J.T. and his sister Ava. Kids wore them as backpack clips and zipper pulls for jackets, coats, lunch boxes and purses.
Grace asked herself, How can we use this trend for something good?
The answer: Create charms with messages like “love” and “peace” to ignite a grassroots anti-bullying movement. The goal: Encourage kids to be happy and treat each other kindly. Each charm is a reminder to the person wearing it that they are loved, they are important and they matter, Grace says. That was the birth of the family business, Team Happy Face.
Started in 2011, Team Happy Face is now a thriving business. The charms are in demand for decorating laptop, digital reader and smartphone cases. The company also creates custom charms for schools as part of their fundraising projects. Five percent of company profits are donated each year to an anti-bullying initiative. The Anti-Defamation League’s No Place for Hate campaign is the most recent recipient.
J.T., now 9, and Ava, 11, help with the family business when they have time. Even dad Jason, a former chef who works for a major food company, gets involved. But much of the work for Team Happy Face falls to Grace, who is a freelance technical recruiter for several Silicon Valley technology companies.
The success of Team Happy Face has boosted J.T.’s self-esteem. And it has put a spotlight on the needs of all kids with dyslexia, Grace says.
J.T. is now in fourth grade. He attends public school for half the day and receives private tutoring for the other half. “We refused to allow the classroom to define who J.T. was,” Grace says. “The bullying is over, and more importantly, J.T. loves learning again. These kids are very bright. They just need to be identified early and get the right help to succeed.”
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Geri Coleman Tucker is a freelance writer and editor and a former deputy managing editor for