Christina Catalano takes a stand against bullying
Tackling the topic of bullying with a special segment on News 12 New Jersey are: (L to R) Matthew Filosa, chairman of the Middlesex County Young Republicans; Christina Catalano, FDU senior and anti-bullying activist; Jacqueline Baldassari, ‘Hells Kitchen’ contestant; and Della Crews, News 12 anchor. (Photo courtesy of Catalano)
By Kenna Caprio
“When I was little, my sister would steal my toys and I would tell her it was my property and that she had no right to take them! I was quoting tort law when I was three,” says Fairleigh Dickinson University senior Christina Catalano with a quick laugh and easy smile.
The future lawyer stumbled into the cause of her life unwittingly, coping every day with elementary, middle and high school bullies trying to keep her down.
“Growing up, I was really harassed,” says Catalano, 22, who’s studying history and business at the Metropolitan Campus. Though no one ever physically assaulted her, classmates used to throw things at her and verbally tormented her. She received nasty instant messages, telephone calls and MySpace comments. She used to ask her parents if she could stay home from school when she wasn’t sick. She ate lunch alone. Her teachers didn’t, or couldn’t, help and sometimes even contributed to the ongoing harassment.
“It wasn’t about me personally, I just happened to be the target,” she says. Still, “those things stay with people. It stays with me.”
Early on, she resolved to find a way to lessen the pain of other bullying victims. “We can channel positivity instead of ignoring the problem. We can look at bullying from an awareness and implementation standpoint,” she says.
Driving on the highway this past summer she found an outlet for her cause. She saw a sign for an anti-bullying center in Freehold, N.J. — now located in Farmingdale, N.J. — pulled off the highway and walked in.
Catalano never realized that just a few months later that she would be one of the faces of We’re Kickin’ It Kids, and a spokeswoman for the New Jersey nonprofit that recently launched the Journey to Half a Million campaign.
“Our goal is to raise $500,000 to buy the building and pay off the mortgage,” says Catalano of the We’re Kickin’ It Kids anti-bullying center, which officially reopens its doors in April. “It’s a safe place to go.” The nonprofit offers student mentoring and activities, career services, school support, community resources and funds transport to the center for children.
Since the campaign kicked off on February 10, We’re Kickin’ It Kids has raised nearly $17,000. The campaign continues until the nonprofit reaches its goal.
Through all kinds of promotions and events, We’re Kickin’ It Kids is getting its name out there. The nonprofit has attracted local and national sponsors — including Tic Tac and the Home Depot and Lowes of Howell, N.J. — plus celebrity endorsements, with commitments from contestants on television’s “Hells Kitchen” and “The Voice” and Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) competitors.
This past November, Catalano raised the nonprofit’s profile further as she, celebrity chef Jacqueline Baldassari and Kids founder Gina Marie Raimondo joined Della Crews of Spotlight New Jersey for an interview on local television station News 12 New Jersey.
“I felt like an outsider my entire life,” Catalano confessed during the segment. “For a very long time, I felt like I was not worth it. I know in the back of my mind that I have to stand up for what I believe in. And be positive. That’s what our organization, We’re Kickin’ It Kids, is all about.”
“Bullying is a timeless issue. Everyone on this planet knows what it’s like to be on the receiving end, or to feel uncomfortable. Maybe you’re not going through it every single day, but you’re seeing it. What we’re trying to do is empower and inspire each individual to believe in themselves,” said Raimondo during the broadcast. “Everyone wants to point their fingers and say, ‘Okay, this is a school issue.’ It’s not a school issue. It starts in the community; it’s also in the home. We all have to work together in order to overcome this behavior.”
Catalano crafted parts of the segment herself, working with the producers and providing News 12 with photos from various events, including one of Raimondo alongside New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
One of Catalano’s connections from New Jersey College Republicans believed in the campaign and helped facilitate the introduction to the governor. As co-chair, and then acting chair of the organization, Catalano represented college Republicans across the state, as she broke the glass ceiling, becoming the first woman to hold these positions in years. She also served as the first female president of the FDU College Republicans.
Her activism on campus extends even further with commitments to the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and Conference on Environmental Sustainability, both of which she helped found.
“Christina has been an exceptional student and member of the Metropolitan Campus community. She has a stellar academic record and has been instrumental in the success of student activities and organizations on campus. She was especially involved in the founding of our charter for the National Society of Collegiate Scholars,” says Metropolitan Campus Provost Joseph Kiernan.
Add in her involvement in the University Honors Program and a host of public law internships, and Catalano is one determined woman. She finds strength in the culture and diversity of FDU and feels accepted here.
“It doesn’t surprise me that people from FDU achieve great things,” says Catalano. “The pinnacle of a great school is in the excellence of its fundamental mission.”
She’ll achieve greatness post-FDU, too, in law school next fall and beyond.