AUSTIN (KXAN) — Perhaps now more than ever we are all trying to think of ways to make our world a kinder place and to make sure kids feel safe at school.
Young people are now on summer break ahead of a new school year next fall, and an Austin youth counselor says now is the perfect time to talk to children about kindness and bullying. Cyberbullying and social aggression seem to tick up during the summer because young people have more time for social media where a lot of bullying takes place.
Now, Austin-based pro golfer Sergio Garcia and his wife Angela are speaking exclusively to KXAN and offering our community a resource to stop this harmful behavior.
The Garcias recognize it takes a village to build something great, so they have teamed up with local partners to try and end youth bullying. When asked if being parents has changed their perspective on bullying and harsh words, Sergio replied, “definitely.”
“You get more involved, and you realize that even more because now you have two little kids, and you do not want them to get bullied and you don’t want them to bully anyone because you know how much it hurts,” he said.
Angela said bullying is pervasive and can be dangerous.
“We’re seeing young people … they’re suffering from depression, anxiety and we’re seeing people take their lives and we have to do something,” she said.
Angela started the UGLI Foundation, which works to end bullying amongst youth.
“We thought of ugly. We wanted to de-weaponize it,” she said, “so we changed the spelling. It’s U-G-L-I and it means ‘unique gifted loved individual.'” The UGLI Foundation offers steps for how to process being bullied.
In the fall, children will see UGLI Foundation’s messaging in local schools starting with Eanes ISD.
“The good news is we’re seeing that school-based bullying prevention programs are decreasing bullying by 25%,” Angela said. The program recruits students and brand ambassadors with big followings to denounce bullying and spread positivity, and that’s where Sergio hopes to help.
“The great thing about being a professional athlete is you get a bunch of fans, and they are behind you,” he said. And when it comes to dealing with the “haters,” Sergio said, “it’s important to be strong mentally to rely on loved ones and make sure you have good support.”
Support is what Angela hopes to offer to young people. She is scheduling big group talks where she shares her personal story with bullying.
“I was bullied later in life as a television personality,” she said. Angela was a reporter on the PGA Tour when she endured bullying. That’s where she had some low points, but it’s also where she experienced life’s highs, like when a persistent golfer asked her out.
“Sergio did ask me out and I said no quite a few times and I finally said yes,” Angela said. “But you never know what can happen and here we are two kids later.”
Now a family of four, the Garcias have set roots down in Austin. Angela channels her pain from those reporting days to create a safe network for Austin.
“Austin is our home, so it is our community. We want to help Austin as much as we can,” she said.
She encourages others to speak out against bullying. She wants to enlist the help of parents and teachers to talk with their kids and students about bullying. Even peers can intervene and offer verbal support that can ultimately save a life.
“Now UGLI is a good thing,” Angela said.