SPRING HILL — Sarah Ball is on the verge of turning a painful chapter of her high school story into a movement.
Last year, after fellow students at Hernando High targeted her on Facebook, Ball started Hernando Unbreakable, a grass roots effort to raise awareness about bullying and offer children and teens a resource that Ball felt she didn't have. Since then, the 17-year-old junior has shared her story by speaking at Hernando schools, at St. Leo University and at the Hernando Youth Summit, picking up along the way support from an array of stakeholders in the county.
On Saturday, the work will culminate in the Unbreakable Movement for Peace. The event at Delta Woods Park is part rally, part festival, part seminar with live music, free food, games, and arts and crafts. Scores of volunteers, sponsors and individual donors have come together to make the event a reality.
The goal, Ball said, is to have fun while drawing attention to a heavy topic.
"It's going to bring us together, and it's going to show what bullying is," she said. "If it's not happening to you or your friend or your sister, you brush it off."
Because of her personal experience, Ball is most passionate about cyber-bullying, when students use social media to hurl insults and harass others. Cyber-bullying is the topic of one of three "mini-education sessions" to be offered Saturday. Another will focus on adolescent bullying. In the third, Brooksville author Reiko Brown will talk about her trials growing up in New York City during the 1970s and '80s and her experience as a bully.
While the main focus of the event is bullying, the broader theme noted in the program is "peace, health, safety and well being to strengthen families." The nearly 40 exhibitors range from the Hernando County Health Department to Career Central.
Dawn Easter, a member of the steering committee for the Hernando Youth Initiative, decided to join the Unbreakable event committee after seeing Ball speak at the Hernando Youth Summit last fall.
"She made such an impact," recalled Easter, a workshop specialist for Career Central. "You could see how personal of a situation it was for her and how it affected her. She's a strong young lady to step forward and say, nope, I'm going to make a difference instead of letting it affect me to the point where I can't function. That's exactly what it takes."
Last year, after Ball endured a painful breakup with her boyfriend, a girl Ball considered to be a friend posted a message on her Facebook status: "I hate Sarah Ball and I don't care who knows."
Shortly afterward, photos of Ball and that same friend appeared on a Facebook page called Hernando Haters. "Who's prettier?" the caption read. Someone left a comment calling Ball an "ugly whore."
The Times profiled Ball and her nascent Unbreakable effort last April. At that point, the bullying was still occurring, and she would eventually file a bullying complaint with school officials. It's a relatively new procedure, but for the most part, it worked, Ball said. Two teens were suspended.
The Unbreakable Club at Hernando High that Ball formed at the end of last school year has been put on hold for now, but she hopes to bring an anti-bullying curriculum to a local middle school soon.
There are other signs that the issue is coming to the fore in Hernando.
By coincidence, Saturday's event comes at the end of the Hernando school district's first Anti-Bullying Week. Schools held their own events and entered a districtwide poster contest. The winners will be presented near the end of the Unbreakable event.
The attention Ball has drawn to herself has come with a price. Someone created a copycat Unbreakable Facebook page that mocked her effort. Students said she was just trying to get attention, or revenge.
Not the case, she said.
"It's about healing for the victims," she said, "and a learning process for the bullies."
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or [email protected]