SANTA YNEZ, Calif. - People in the Santa Ynez Valley are standing up against bullying and discrimination in their community.
The Coalition to Promote Inclusion and Equality, which started earlier this year, has seen its membership grow from 5 people to about 40 people in the valley.
Their goal is to bring people together and help them realize they are more alike than different.
"This is a long-term project to change the culture in this valley,” said Dean Palius, who helped to start the coalition. Palius said he knows what it’s like to feel left out.
"I grew up back east in New Jersey and I was Jewish and there was a tremendous amount of anti-Semitism,” he recalled.
He’s using his experiences as a kid, to help bring more understanding to different types of people in the Santa Ynez Valley.
"We noticed over the years that in our schools in the valley there is an uptick in discriminatory practices and bullying,” said Palius.
Community members from educators to business owners have joined the Coalition to Promote Inclusion and Equality. These are concepts Palius hopes become deeply rooted in the valley.
"One student reported to us that someone in the class was in an argument with them and said we could have your parents deported,” Palius said.
He said that after hearing examples like that, the community decided it was time to take action.
"Our students need to have an understanding of what compassion is and empathy. I think the ability to have a conversation and understand each others’ cultures,” said Molly Carrillo-Walker, a trustee with the College School District.
Coalition leaders say it's important to expose children to anti-bullying. Niki Sandoval shared her experiences as a kid growing up in the Santa Ynez Indian Reservation.
"I do remember feeling excluded, feeling ashamed, hurt, there was a lot of misunderstanding between groups of people,” Sandoval said.
She now works with children and adults on the reservation to help break stereotypes and show people that they are more alike than different.
"We have to create positive school climates, welcoming environments for children at any age and for adults,” she added.
If you want to join the coalition you can get more information at http://syvcoalition.com or call Dean Palius at 805-686-0295.