By Erika Webb
For some, getting kids dressed for back to school is routine. For others, it's possible, but accompanied by angst over already-tight finances. For still others, it's not even part of the school equation. Rent, food and electricity leave nothing in the budget for clothing.
Last year's clothes or, if they're lucky, hand-me downs will provide what's absolutely necessary -- even if it's not what's required.
Required by whom you might ask? In reality, you probably already know the answer: peers.
In 2011, a 10-year-old North Carolina girl died in her mother's arms after hanging herself. Jasmine McClain's mother, Samantha West, told a reporter for WRAL News in Raleigh that the girl was bullied at school, teased incessantly about her clothes and her shoes.
She left school for a time and dreaded the inevitable return to face her tormentors, Ms. West told WRAL.
Ultimately, she did return, but she found a way to leave for good.
After her death other students came forward, confirming to police that Jasmine was bullied, "and bullied bad," WRAL reported.
Jasmine's is one of countless cases of bullying resulting in the deaths of children and teens each year.
Lillian Stabile, who oversees entertainment and administration for Deltona Against Bullying, knows the devastating effects firsthand. Her daughter, Mary Elizabeth, also was bullied relentlessly when she was in school. Mrs. Stabile said she believes the one-car accident that ended her daughter's life was suicide -- caused by too many years of torture at the hands, and mouths, of her peers.
"(Bullying) totally changed her life. She had her jaw broken twice in school. Then, when she was 13, she was abducted. She spent five years in a mental hospital and never recovered," Ms. Stabile told Hometown News in a previous interview. "She died in a one-car accident. I say she killed herself because she could never cope with what happened throughout her whole life."
Mrs. Stabile reaches out to others when she hears of bullying-related tragedies. Jasmine McClain's mother is one of those others.
Jasmine's story inspired a new project being undertaken by Deltona Against Bullying.
"We want to run a clothes closet for needy kids who have been bullied because they don't have nice clothes and nice shoes. We want to bring them in so they can pick out, and have, nice things to wear to school," Mrs. Stabile said. "Our first meeting is coming up. We don't have a date set yet, but we're looking for volunteers and helpers to get this thing going."
Mrs. Stabile wants to call it Jasmine's closet.
"I want it to honor her and preserve her memory. I want this to serve to keep what happened to her from happening to others," Mrs. Stabile said. "Kids that don't fit in are at a bigger risk of being bullied."
The clothes closet, which is in the NPI Building at 689 Deltona Blvd., already has more than 200 items, including girls' and boys' clothes and shoes in a range of sizes. But more items are needed.
Deltona Against Bullying was founded in 2012 and this year debuted a pilot program called ChangeReaction at Heritage Middle School designed to help sixth-grade students gain new awareness, respect and responsibility for effective change.
Mrs. Stabile said the organization is in the process of changing its name to Bully Armor Inc. in an effort to make those in other cities around Volusia County feel more welcome to participate in its endeavors.
"When we would go to Orange City or someplace else, people would say 'why do we want to donate to Deltona? Maybe we'll start our own (anti-bully) organization,'" she said. "By changing the name, we hope to include, and not exclude anybody because part of the name is Deltona."
Like anything else, there are different perspectives on the importance that should be placed on clothing.
Mrs. Stabile said she recently spoke with a mother who felt her children should appreciate what they have, no matter how little. She was of the opinion that dealing with taunting would make her children tougher and better able to cope later on.
That philosophy works ... some of the time. It's the other times Mrs. Stabile cannot abide.
"Everybody's entitled to their opinion," Mrs. Stabile said. "But if I can put nice, clean clothes on a kid, I'm gonna do it."
To donate, volunteer or get more information about the clothes closet project, call Lillian Stabile at (386) 837-1211. Deltona Against Bullying (Bully Armor) regular meetings will resume on Tuesdays in September. Call (386) 574-5754 for information.