What is the Mission of The Ophelia Project?
Our mission is to empower all members of a community to recognize and address relational aggression through systemic change in the social culture.
What is the History of The Ophelia Project?
The Ophelia Project, headquartered in Erie, Pennsylvania, was a national nonprofit organization founded in 1997 by Susan Wellman, a local educator and mother. Inspired by Dr. Mary Pipher’s Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls which detailed the struggles of girls growing up in today’s society Wellman drew from upheavals in her own family to initiate an organization that has touched and changed lives throughout North America.
What started with a local book review on Pipher’s book quickly evolved into a grassroots movement of hundreds of volunteers dedicated to increasing social and emotional support for children, teachers and parents. These volunteers blended their expertise, insight, energy and love to create a safer social climate for youth in Erie.
From the start, The Ophelia Project recognized the truths of Pipher’s recognition of a dysfunctional culture; a disconnect between the youth and parents in an ever changing social context. From this truth, the founding members created a statement of purpose: to help create safe social places for all children and their parents.
In 1998, while listening to the stories of adolescent girls in advisory councils, The Ophelia Project discovered an issue they had not begun to address—how girls hurt each other. With the support of groundbreaking researchers, they learned about relational aggression and the harm to both girls and boys. Before the books on relational aggression were written, and well before the term relational aggression was embedded in our national lexicon the Ophelia Project was on top of this issue. There were no intervention programs specifically addressing relational aggression so using adolescent volunteers, The Ophelia Project developed the first program in the country by training high school students to work directly with middle and elementary students in learning about relational aggression. This early work ignited national recognition further propelled by the first two books on relational aggression, Odd Girl Out (by Rachel Simmons) and Queen Bees and Wannabees (by Rosalind Wiseman). Ophelia staff members were asked to speak across the country on the programs they had developed.
At the height of Ophelia’s work they were involved with thirty four schools and institutions locally, eleven Sister Projects across the United States and Canada, and countless schools and communities, all of whom implemented our Ophelia Project curricula and training methods to create their own respective programs.
Meanwhile many other organizations developed similar programs to address the growing epidemic of relational aggression, cyberbullying, and bullying; many of these initiatives drew inspiration from the existing programs and ongoing research that The Ophelia Project pioneered. The issue needed many strategies and hands to work for the common good and The Ophelia Project was grateful to embrace colleagues, not competitors. The mission was to create safer social climates for all children and Ophelia needed all the help they could get.
However, in the last years of Ophelia, a number of influences caused the organization to decline until it reached a point where it could no longer sustain operation. A growing market in aggression prevention programs and systemic change coupled with a declining ability for schools to financially and feasibly implement programming was one of many key factors. As an organization, we made mistakes. The organization managed to continue largely by using endowment funds. In light of this financial situation, in December 2012, the Board of Directors made the decision to cease formal operations and close the national headquarters. It was decided that any remaining funds from the endowment would be put to better use by supporting sustainable organizations with the same mission.
There is still a Sister Project in Rancho Mirage, CA called The Ophelia Project of Coachella Valley that has a vibrant organization providing volunteer mentors for at risk adolescent girls to help them graduate from high school and go on to higher education. They have a 100% success rate.
The Ophelia Project is proud of the contributions to the Erie community and to others across the country. We close our doors now with the hope that our role was both relevant and vital: we are confident that others will continue where we left off.
What are the highlights of The Ophelia Project’s work?
- Raising awareness of the social issues children face today through conferences, speaking engagements, and advocacy.
- Developing innovative programs to provide mentoring for children both in and outside of schools.
- Creating a variety of training programs, available across the country for teachers, parents and community activists, that addressed relational aggression for boys and girls.
- Providing funding, consulting, and curricula to help schools, groups, and communities adopt a systemic change model for addressing all forms of peer aggression.
- Developing with other communities a replicable model in Sister Projects.
- Making available programs for youth leadership as a model for addressing change in our schools and training hundreds of youth to act as role models and teachers of younger children.
- Creating the only aggression prevention curriculum aligned to the Common Core State Standards, National Health Standards, and National School Climate Standards.
- Projecting relevant issues to a larger audience through conferences on mentoring, bullying, eating disorders, and relational aggression in addition to bringing in well-known speakers such as Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York and Dr. Mary Pipher, author of Reviving Ophelia.
Can I still contact someone at The Ophelia Project?
The Ophelia Project's national office has closed and is currently no longer operational however you are still welcome to email founder, Susan Wellman at firstname.lastname@example.org. There are several former employees and colleagues who have agreed to continued to serve those who need assistance in addressing relational aggression. They can be found on the Speakers page.
Where else can I find resources like The Ophelia Project?
If you are looking for professional development, speaking engagments, consulting, or research about relational aggression, bullying, cyberbullying, or systemic change there is a list of recommended professionals you can contact on the Links page.