Losing a parent at any age is traumatic, but for Elizabeth Kolodny, losing her father at a young age made her realize how very short and precious life can be. Early on she decided that she wanted to make a positive difference in the world during whatever time she was privileged to be a part of it.
Prior to joining Operation Respect, Elizabeth worked for a non-profit organization called Arts in Action, which provided music, dance, visual and performing arts opportunities for elementary school children in the Southeast area of Washington, DC. At the same time, she volunteered, and then became a Site Coordinator for the After School Kids (ASK) program at Georgetown University, which matched university students as mentors for youth on probation throughout the city to provide them with role models, skills and experiences to support their resiliency to make positive changes in their lives and communities.
A move from Washington, D.C., to New York City led her to accepting a job at NYU’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, where she co-founded Looking Ahead, a mentoring program inspired by, and modeled after, ASK, which matched NYU students as mentors for youth engaged in the Center for Alternatives to Sentencing and Employment Services. While at Wagner, Elizabeth heard Peter Yarrow speak about his plans to create an organization that would combat bullying in schools (Yarrow’s speech was not long after the Columbine school shootings.)
After hearing Peter’s message and the song “Don’t Laugh at Me,” which is the centerpiece of Operation Respect’s program, Elizabeth was moved, and signed up to volunteer to support the project. A job offer from Yarrow to join his newly founded nonprofit quickly followed. “I feel fortunate to be a part of this movement to make a positive difference in children’s lives, throughout the United States and beyond.” Kolodny said, reflecting back on her 16 years of working for Operation Respect, and a deeply personal experience keeps her connected and committed to the work today.
In Memory of Diana
“My sister Diana was teased and bullied as a child and the emotional scars stayed with her throughout her life.” Elizabeth shared. “She was sweet, sensitive and compassionate and was also intellectually gifted and found it hard to fit in with her peers while growing up.”
“In her 20s, Diana enjoyed a successful career, was loved and adored by her husband, her family, and so many friends. Tragically, we lost her to cancer when she was only 31 years old. In the last days of her life she shared that she carried the memories of being bullied with her to the end. The pain she endured as a child was embedded in her heart and soul. On a very personal level I am drawn to this work. I can see my sister Diana in every child who is suffering, and in every classroom and school that we help become kinder, more compassionate and respectful.”
While Kolodny’s commitment to the work is personal, her understanding of its need is based on irrefutable data and evidence.
“We are focused on creating and building empathy through our advocacy, program and professional development we offer to educators,” she said. “The studies on bullying are clear. Students who engage in bullying behaviors and victims of bullying are at higher risk for experiencing academic problems, depression and substance abuse and are more likely to commit crimes later in life. In our work we talk about the importance of reaching out to children who are being bullied and to children who are bullying as well. Our goal is to create positive and respectful school cultures, where it is socially unacceptable to be hurtful and unkind, and teasing and bullying are far less likely to occur.”
Elizabeth Kolodny serves as Operation Respect’s Program Director.