Educating children and teens about sexual abuse and bullying
Like a guardian angel, the Monique Burr Foundation’s main goal is to prevent child abuse and bullying against young children and teenagers in Florida and throughout the United States.
Founded in 1997 by GreenPointe Holdings President and CEO Edward Burr after his wife’s tragic death, the Monique Burr Foundation’s sole mission is to continue her legacy of child-protection initiatives and child advocacy, particularly sexual-abuse education and prevention.
“Dad started the foundation on the one-year anniversary of my mother’s death,” said Austin Burr, who was 5 years old when his mother was killed. “Dad gathered up his sister and a couple of other people who were close to my mother and said, ‘What can we do to carry on her legacy?’ The Monique Burr Foundation (MBF) for Children is what they came up with.”
Monique was only 36 when a horrific car accident in Napa, California, instantly took her life and left Burr badly injured with a fractured spine, said Austin. The tragedy occurred during the couple’s second honeymoon to commemorate their 10th wedding anniversary.
Although she was young, Monique had already earned a sterling reputation as a compassionate children’s advocate, having founded the PALS Center, a nationally recognized nursing and day-care program for sick and disabled children. She was also renowned for her involvement with the Mayor’s Commission for Children and the Children’s Crisis Center, which handled all reports of abuse in Northeast Florida.
“When we formed the foundation, our only mission was our desire to carry on Monique’s spirit and passion for protecting children, especially those suffering from physical and sexual abuse,” recalled Burr. Through her work with PALS and the Children’s Crisis Center, Monique had seen first-hand the trauma abused children and crack babies go through, he said, his eyes growing misty. “She helped take care of those young kids. She had a passion for those children, and it was that passion and that spirit that we wanted to continue in the foundation.”
At first MBF was a grant-giving nonprofit that not only funded a sexual-abuse prevention program called “Good Touch, Bad Touch” through the Children’s Crisis Center, but also after-school and food programs to needy organizations. When the Children’s Crisis Center dissolved and there was no organization left to administer “Good Touch, Bad Touch,” Burr decided to transform the foundation into an operational nonprofit, so it could administer the “Good Touch, Bad Touch” program itself.
“We thought it was vital that the program be sustained, so we brought it in-house. We became an operating foundation instead of a grant-giving one, and there was a difference. Ultimately, we realized that if we just did child-abuse education, we could do it better than anyone else in the country. Now that’s all we do.
“In 2010, we realized the challenges to youth were much different than they used to be,” Burr continued, noting it was at that time the foundation hired Lynn Layton as executive director. “The internet had started exposing children to things we weren’t used to, so we revamped the program to what it is now – Child Safety Matters and Teen Safety Matters – programs that cover all types of abuse – bullying, cyberbullying, and digital safety.”
The Child Safety Matters program is tailored for children from Kindergarten through Grade 5 while Teen Safety Matters teaches the middle school crowd in Grades 6-8.
“When we formed the foundation, our only mission was our desire to carry on Monique’s spirit and passion for protecting children, especially those suffering from physical and sexual abuse.”
— Edward Burr
All MBF prevention education programs are taught by school guidance counselors with the goal to educate and empower students and all relevant adults with information and strategies to prevent, recognize, and respond appropriately to bullying, cyber bullying, all types of child abuse and exploitation, and digital dangers. They are research-based, utilize prevention research best practices, and were developed with schools, not for schools, so to make the best use of existing resources and ensure schools have effective programs that are easy to implement.
Since 2010, MBF has trained over 2,600 facilitators who have implemented its prevention education programs to more than two million students in schools throughout Florida and the United States, according to the MBF website.
As the foundation celebrates its 20th anniversary, it is currently developing a program for high school students and recently announced its newest initiative “MBF Athlete Safety Matters,” a research-based, comprehensive abuse-prevention education program for youth sports. The new program for athletes was announced during the foundation’s annual fundraiser, “A Night at Roy’s,” which was held in Jacksonville Beach in May.
Conscious of the recent sexual abuse scandals involving young gymnasts training at Michigan State University, MBF’s newest board member, Olympic gold medalist Shannon Miller, has joined with Donna Orender, former president of WNBA, in spearheading a task force to develop the new education program for athletes.
“We always thought the best way to reach children is through the schools. Almost every child goes to school, and we are reaching 800,000 kids in the state of Florida,” said Burr. “What keeps me up at night is not the 800,000 kids we are reaching, but the millions of kids we are not reaching. If we get into youth athletics, that’s another way to reach millions of kids. Be it swimming, gymnastics, softball, baseball, basketball, dance, football, soccer or cheerleading, almost every child is participating in something. Once we adapt our program to youth sports, it will be limitless in the number of children we can reach.”