SoftStone Products, Inc. and our President, Karen Stone have been committed to children’s Emotional Intelligence (EQ) for more than 30 years. Please read the articles below that have praised our approach to the emotional well-being of children.
2 SJ NATIVES HELP PROMOTE ANTI-BULLYING AWARENESS
MOUNT LAUREL – Karen Stone sits in her second-floor home office and motions to a picture on her desk of her with her son.
They’re dressed up and sporting smiles in the photo; it brings a light to her face.
It’s been two years since her son Darren died of melanoma at the age of 40. He had significant neurological disabilities and helped fuel her desire to help those with special needs and to stop bullying.
Stone, 68, a learning disability specialist and special education teacher, is the author of a popular anti-bullying blog called howwestopbullying.com and is putting the finishing touches on a book titled “Is Your Child’s World Emotionally Safe?” to assist parents in helping children learn how to deal with bullying.
October is National Bullying Prevention Month and Emotional Intelligence Awareness Month.
“Darren was probably the most emotionally intelligent person I know,” says Stone, who has more than 35 years of education experience and is the CEO of SoftStone Products Inc. “I always said when I grow up I want to be just like Darren. He taught me unconditional love. I taught him a lot about connectedness. He was bullied. I gave him a sense of himself. We only speak kind voices. We say kind things to other people.”
“Empathy. That’s how we can really stop bullying is to teach empathy. Through teaching children kind voices.”
Former Voorhees resident Alana Vivolo-Kantor also is on a mission to stop bullying.
As a behavior scientist, Vivolo-Kantor works on the forefront of bullying research for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Bullied by peers (and bullying others) while attending middle and high school, Vivola-Kantor eventually developed a passion to prevent bullying.
Although she can’t recall a specific event, Vivola-Kantor looks back and realizes that experiencing bullying had an impact on her.
“As I grew up, I started to also realize how my behaviors likely affected others — like not inviting everyone to hang out on a Friday night or sitting only with my clique in the cafeteria,” she said.
“But I was involved in more ways than that — I saw it happen and never defended individuals being bullied, but I also never tried to stop the individual bullying others,” she added.
Looking back it’s easy for Vivola-Kantor to see why bullying happened; it was all about differences.
“Bullying can occur because you perceive others to be different than you and different is seen as a bad thing. As an adult, I’m inspired now when I work with others who have different perspectives than my own. It teaches me and helps me build my own character.”
Now at CDC, Vivola-Kantor focuses her research on understanding how we can change bullying behaviors and prevent youth from experiencing the harmful, negative consequences of bullying.
Stone, who does classroom presentations and speaks around the country on the subject of bullying and emotional intelligence, also has personal stories about bullying. She, too, was bullied throughout her childhood growing up in Atlantic City, simply because she was different.
“It started very young,” she said. “I lived on the boardwalk. My father owned a store and we lived in the apartment above. I didn’t have any children to play with really. I didn’t live in a neighborhood. I was the outsider and outsiders are always picked on.”
“I used to have to ride a jitney to school. At age 5 I took myself to school. I was never invited to different things, I didn’t walk home with them in the neighborhood and so they picked on me because I was the outsider.”
She began to put on weight at an early age and also had “buck teeth so I was picked on through that and through high school, too.” While she had younger siblings later on, they grew up in neighborhoods in Margate and didn’t necessarily experience the same treatment.
“As a child I had this thing that I was going to stop meanness in the world,” she said. “I came from a dysfunctional family, too, so I had difficult times at home also as a child.”
When a friend of her parents had a child with severe disabilities, Stone took interest, leading her to volunteer after high school each day. That work helped her gain a sense of self, Stone said..
“When I went in there to help and volunteer, they made me feel good about myself,” said Stone, who majored in special education at Boston University and also has a masters in learning disabilities. “That was really the first time I got a sense of who I was as an individual.”
Stone’s book will be put together and published by Bancroft Office Support Service, or BOSS, a training center and employer for South Jersey residents with developmental and intellectual disabilities.
Stone and her husband, Hal, purchased some of the equipment BOSS employees use as a tribute to their late son, who was a client at Bancroft’s assisted living facility, as well as a way of continuing to get her messages out about bullying.
“He’s really an inspiration,” she said of her son Darren.
About 30 years ago, Stone created Creator of Joy, or CJ, a children’s character who, along with his friends, helps represent the tenets of emotional intelligence. It includes guides for teachers, parents and children with activities that help develop the voices and behaviors needed for the emotional brain to reach development milestones in critical thinking, problem solving and processing.
“This is how I decided to teach children how to take care of themselves,” Stone said.
Vivola-Kantor’s work with StopBullying.gov, specifically, aims to raise awareness of bullying — what it is, how commonly it occurs, and how we as a community need to be champions for prevention.
“The key message in all that I do is we can stop bullying before it happens, but it takes an entire school or an entire community, including parents, to change the norm.”
“Bullying is not a part of growing up or a rite of passage, it’s an indication that we need to do a better job at teaching youth how to cherish differences and how to communicate effectively with others,” Vivola-Kantor added.
According to the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence’s website, to prevent and reduce bullying “we need to equip adolescents and the adults in their lives with the emotional intelligence skills to deal with conflict. Teaching adolescents to recognize and understand their own emotional responses to difficult situations and to act in an intelligent, constructive manner will pave the way to better peer relations.”
The center created the RULER model of emotional intelligence, a social-emotional learning program that posits that teaching children to recognize, understand, label, express, and regulate emotions promotes positive youth development.
That’s in line with what Stone’s been saying for years.
“I have an anti-bullying blog but I speak about emotional intelligence,” Stone said. “I don’t believe that we can stop bullying by ‘let’s say no to bullying’ or to teach our children to say no to bullying. You never stop anything from a negative standpoint. You have to tell them what to say yes to. Emotionally intelligent children don’t bully. It’s not even in their frame of reference.”
Celeste E. Whittaker: (856) 486-2437; firstname.lastname@example.org
Matt Flowers: (856) 486-2913; email@example.com
Karen Stone will be holding “Let’s take ACTIONS for Emotional Intelligence” workshops for children grades 3-8 on Sundays beginning Nov. 1 and ending on Nov. 22 at Yoga For Living in Cherry Hill. Classes cost $29 per session or $89 for four sessions. Grades 3-5 are 1:30 to 2:30 and 6-8 are 2:45 to 3:45 p.m.
The address is 1926 Greentree Road in Cherry Hill. Sign up at yogaforliving.net.
PREMISE WITH A PROMISE: NEW TOY AIMS TO MAKE SELF-ESTEEM CHILD’S PLAY
By David E. Wilson
CJ’s self-affirmation, printed in a booklet that accompanies the doll: “I, CJ, am lovable, kind and good enough just the way I am.”
The difference is that Stone isn’t satirizing anything. Frustrated with what she sees as a culture bathed in violence and hate, she has created a doll that she hopes will condition young children to look on the bright side.
CJ, which stands for “Creator of Joy,” is a bright-yellow, seven –pointed pillow with a smiley face. It is produced by Webb Manufacturing, a custom textile company in Philadelphia. While the toy doesn’t boast quite the technology of the popular Nintendo 64, the parent guide that comes with it outlines philosophy for filling the world with positive, happy and joyful human beings.”
Beat that, Elmo.
Not that Stone considers CJ competition for this season’s million selling Tickle Me Elmo doll.
She plans to hawk the hundred or so newly made CJ’s from a booth in front of the J.C. Penney at the Echelon Mall in Voorhees tomorrow. And she expects to make other stops at the Garden State Discovery Museum in Cherry Hill and area bookstores.
Also available are sing-along tapes, coloring books and T-shirts that proclaim, “I Love you. You are perfect just the way you are.”
The CJ doll was 10 years old in the making for Stone, a Mount Laurel resident who has a master’s degree in special education. She got the idea after a low point that found her gobbling self-help psychology books. “I began to realize that self-esteem was the bottom line,” she said.
That theme is found everywhere in the booklet that comes with the doll.
A Parent Guide for developing Self-Worth and Self-Esteem lists seven concepts-one for each point of the CJ doll.
Be positive. Make good choices. Help others. Love yourself. Forgive yourself. Play nice. Appreciate who you are and what you have.
“If we can do these seven things, then we are indeed creators of joy,” Stone said.
Be positive. Make good choices. Help others. Play nice.
SHE MARKETS “JOY”
By J.J. DeStefano
Stone, a resident of Mount Laurel, clutches this stuffed character chock full of symbols, including a smile in the shape of a “j”, a nose in the shape of the number seven, and a red heart on the toy’s cheek.
CJ, which stands for Creator of Joy, is part of a package offering an illustrated book, song book, a cassette chanting love, love, love and lots of colorful information on what the character can teach growing children and others.
Nothing about this loveable character, created 15 years ago by Stone, has occurred by chance. During a consumer frenzy over popular characters like Mickey Mouse, the Cabbage Patch dolls, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Stone started to think about introducing a new kid on the block that could not only be enjoyed by children, but teach them something.
“My program promotes self-esteem and feelings of self-worth through seven truths. I always felt that children need to have a positive attitude and good self-image of themselves in order to learn and be successful,” said Stone.
Self-esteem is not an easy idea to teach to children, so she knew it was important to create a tangible object that children could relate to and make them smitten with joy.
Stone started attending workshops in an effort to discover inner peace. “I was looking for happiness and I was determined to be happy,” she said.
She is now presenting her program in private pre-schools in the Burlington and Camden counties. Stone is marketing CJ and ten other supporting characters as a program guide for teachers.
CJ’s seven-point star represents seven concepts or truths: Saying nice things about themselves and others; acknowledging the gift of choice; when we help each other we learn to trust; loving yourself is an affirmation of who you are; forgiving yourself; and finally being grateful.
Stone, once the director of a Britannica Learning Center, a teacher to GI’s and an education consultant on children with cancer for Cooper Hospital-University Medical Center in Camden, said she became passionate about serving as an instrument of hope for kids.
“I have found these truths to be important to how I need to live my life. I know that if I had been a child exposed to these truths, that I would have chosen differently though the years.”
“It was not the circumstances of my life that decided my destiny, but the way I chose to address them,” said Stone.
“I know this works, once kids know who they are, it is a lot easier to teach them reading, writing and arithmetic“, Stone added. The material presented, according to its author, ignites many new ideas and people of all ages experience it on many different levels.
Each concept in her program is developed through audience participation. Before Stone presents the program in schools, she offers activities that encourage students to talk about being positive; to discuss a variety of ways that students know themselves; to discuss trust, support, self-worth and then they are asked to write one sentence that describes who they are.
Strongly influenced by her son who she says taught her all about unconditional love coupled with her years of experience in the field of special education, Stone’s vision includes allowing the learning disabled to be involved in the production of CJ by offering them supervised work, and more importantly options and independence.
More than a stuffed toy, Stone concludes, “CJ is a whole philosophy for filling the world with positive, happy and joyful human beings.”
HELPING CHILDREN DEVELOP POSITIVE ATTITUDE, IMAGE
By Marilyn L. Margulis
“Hi, boys and girls,” said Karen Stone, as she greeted her audience in the children’s section of Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Marlton. “I’d like you to meet CJ. He’s a star with seven points. Each point of his star is a way of being a creator of joy.”
Stone’s foam-filled, gold star with a cartoon-like smile face was depicted by a Mt. Laurel youth who was costumed as CJ. As the Mount Laurel woman demonstrated her seven concepts for creating joy, she called various youngsters up to the tiny stage.
When she presents her program at area bookstores and at Discovery Museum in Cherry Hill, Stone is attempting to give back to the universe the happiness she has found during her own soul searching.
Visited mentally disabled
Stone’s mentor was Burton Blatt, a special education professor she studied with when she attended Boston University.
“I went with him to visit institutions for the mentally disabled,” explains the former special education major. “He taught me that intelligence is educable. He said I would someday follow in his footsteps, giving the mentally disabled their dignity and integrity.”
Stone’s character, “CJ, a creator of joy,” was originally inspired by a workshop she attended a decade ago.
Stone wears a button stating CJ’s premise: “You’re just perfect the way you are.” She feels her brainchild will convey her message to youngsters.
“I feel we educate children’s minds and develop physical fitness, but that our education has neglected the development of self-esteem and self-worth,” she explained.
“My son, Darren, taught me what that premise means,” said Stone. “Although he has developmental disabilities, he taught me that he is perfect the way he is. Darren personifies all the things CJ is. My long-term vision is that all children be creators of joy through the seven concepts of CJ.”
Stone noted that students in the Education Department at Bancroft School in Haddonfield are packaging her products as part of their work/study program.
“I perceive many of my Softstone products being made and packaged in sheltered workshops for the mentally disabled,” she explained.
At Barnes & Noble, Stone read her concepts from a paperback book she has written. She used various interactive exercises to illustrate CJ’s concepts.
The parents watching Stone’s presentation were delighted.
“I think the program is good for kids because it boosts their self-esteem and makes them feel good about themselves,” said Virginia Early.
Stone noted that her program does promote feelings of self-worth.
“I always believed children needed to have a positive attitude and image of themselves in order to learn and succeed,” Stone said. “If you reach the children, they can change the world”
HER DREAM OF STRENGTH FOR CHILDREN
By Ovetta Wiggins
You can see it in her eyes. It’s a determination that promises to bring even more success to Karen Ellen Stone’s future.
She describes herself as an educator, mother and businesswoman. For some women, that might be enough. But for Stone, you can see that there’s more to come.
The doll, which includes a song and book, was created by Stone more than four years ago. CJ is not another Cabbage Patch or Teddy Rugpin, Stone says. He is an avenue through which Stone hopes to share with children her ideas on self-worth and developing a strong image.
She tried to market the doll a few years ago but failed because of lack of financing and business expertise, she said. But she has not given up on the doll. Stone describes the program as a very simple “how to” presentation, with each letter of the word ACTIONS representing a step to be followed.
Since a pilot program on ACTIONS three years ago in Camden County, teachers and parents in a number of communities, including Moorestown, Delran, Haddonfield and Edgewater Park, have viewed it.
Walter Dold, the Edgewater Park Township school superintendent, said he decided to have the program because he believes low self-esteem and poor self-image lead to drug and alcohol abuse. “Drug and alcohol abuse (are) a symptom of other problems,” Dold said, “and we want to address the problem rather than the symptom.”
Stone believes that “children have to stop being victims” and it is important for them to make different choices and accept responsibilities for their choices.
The lack of alternative is the main fault Stone finds in the drug program pushed by Nancy Reagan. “Up to now, the drug program says, ‘Just Say No’ to drugs, but it doesn’t say what to say ‘yes’ to,” Stone said. “By saying ‘yes’ to yourself, you’re giving a feeling of self-worth that leads to positive action, and that is something that takes place of the drug.”
Stone, a Mount Laurel resident, is the director of Britannica Learning Center in Moorestown and has worked as an education consultant for Cooper Hospital-University Medical Center in Camden for two years. She worked with children with cancer for two years and has more than 20 years’ experience in education.
Despite her long list of credentials, Stone considers her greatest accomplishment to be the raising of her mentally disabled son. “I’ve brought my own personal experience into the program,” Stone said. “Because of my work that I’ve done with self-esteem, my 16 year old son has become a well adjusted, self-sufficient young man.”
Stone is a strong believer that “if you feel good about yourself, there’s nothing you can’t do.”