The Community Foundation of Middlesex County (CFMC) recently presented the Bully-Free Communities Spotlight Award to the Ivoryton Playhouse and to Broadway actor Douglas Lyons for their work in creating and presenting educational productions that foster positive, healthy behaviors and attitudes among young people. The recipients were recognized at the April 11 world premiere of “Polkadots:The Cool Kids Musical,” which was co-conceived and written by Lyons and performed at the Playhouse for over 1400 elementary school students from Clinton, Chester, Deep River, Essex, Middletown, and Portland, in addition to the general public. The CFMC Council of Business Partners Fund, a donor advised fund started in 2009 by a group of local business owners in support of school-based anti-bullying initiatives, in partnership with other organizations, provided financial support for the production and, when necessary, bus transportation for the school systems.
Two years ago, CFMC and its Council of Business Partners launched the Campaign for Bully-Free Communities, calling upon students, educators, civic leaders, businesses, community organizations, neighbors and friends to stand together for change and to make all of Middlesex County a bully-free zone. The Ivoryton Playhouse responded with enthusiasm and energy, first staging the premiere of the Off Broadway musical “The Bully” in April 2015, and then making the decision to bring the Douglas Lyons’ original work and universal message of respect and acceptance to elementary school children this year.
Polkadots tells the story of Lily Polkadot and her journey to acceptance with the help of her new friend Sky Square in the “Squares Only” town of Rockaway. At the opening night pre-show reception, which took place at Six Summit Gallery in Ivoryton, Mr. Lyons and his creative team spoke about how the events of the Little Rock Nine in 1957 served as the inspiration for the show. Prior to the school performances, a curriculum guide, developed by Rushford, a Hartford HealthCare Partner, was provided for teachers to talk about topics in the musical before the students saw it. Additional financial support for the production was provided by Marc Blakeman, The Bauman Family Foundation, The Essex Community Fund, and The Thomas J. Atkins Memorial Trust Fund, Bank of America, N.A., Trustee.
“The Ivoryton Playhouse’s commitment to educational, children’s productions that celebrate our differences and promote positive behavior is spotlight worthy. They truly understand the power of partnership and giving voice to valuable life lessons,” stated CFMC CEO and President Cynthia Clegg, “We are thrilled that they opened the door for Polkadots to have its world premiere here in Middlesex County, and for introducing all of us to the vision and great talent of Doug Lyons and his creative team.”
The Ivoryton Playhouse and Doug Lyons were awarded the Spotlight Award specifically for taking to heart the Campaign for Bully-Free Communities initiative of encouraging everyone to be an UPstander, not a bystander; and for their demonstrated commitment to being “Agents of Change” and ensuring that community youth have the support they need to grow and develop in a healthy and safe environment.
The Campaign for Bully-Free Communities: In 2009, when, working through the Community Foundation of Middlesex County, the Council of Business Partners Fund was established and with the help of Rushford, a Hartford Healthcare Partner, the “No Bully Zone” program was developed and funded. Council members contribute annually and, to date, the partnership has implemented the No Bully Zone Program in Keigwin Middle and Woodrow Wilson Middle schools in Middletown; in the Haddam-Killingworth school district; in Oddfellows Playhouse and Ivoryton Playhouse projects; The Country School; and in conjunction with The First Tee of Connecticut youth programs. Most recently, the program was adapted for school bus travel on buses operated by M&J Bus Inc. with 470 drivers receiving training this year, and is also being implemented in the East Hampton school system with support from the Shulman Family Fund and the East Hampton Rotary Club. To expand their reach and impact, the CFMC Council of Business Partners joined forces with the Connecticut Association of Schools (CAS); EMPOWER Leadership Sports; The First Tee of Connecticut; Rushford, A Hartford Healthcare Partner; iCRV Radio; Donny Marshall; and Elizabeth Shulman (LMFT) in creating the Campaign for Bully-Free Communities in 2014.
The CFMC Council of Business Partners includes: John Sullivan of A&A Office Systems; Laura Pedersen of A.R. Mazzotta Employment Specialists; Owen Flannery of Belltown Motors; William, Susan and Shawn McCann of BEST Cleaners; Mauricio Salgar of the Black Seal Restaurant; Colin Burr of Brown & Brown of CT, Inc.; David Director of Connecticut Lighting Centers, Inc.; David Gilbert of Direct Energy; William McMinn of Essex Printing/Events Magazines; St. Mary’s Church in Portland and Congregation Adath Israel in Middletown of the Interfaith Golf Open Tournament; Daniel Zimmerman of LiveKind; James Mahoney of Mahoney Sabol & Co., LLP; Marc Levin of Malloves Jewelers; Karen Beebe of M & J Bus Company; Cindy Bailey of Paulson Training Programs, Inc.; Attorney Nancy Raczka; Theodore Rossi of The Rossi Group; David Shulman of Suburban Stationers, Inc.; and Elizabeth Shulman, LMFT.