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Anti-bullying Program Raising Money for K-2 Project in Fort Lauderdale

by Regina Kaza
Friday Dec 7, 2012

Steven Billing and Norman Rea hate bullying and love elephants.

So they put the two together to get the Wishaphants, cartoon characters in children's books who promote anti-bullying in grades K-2. After pulling around $15,000 out of their own pockets for t-shirts, books, and a mascot, they want to raise $50,000 to turn their animations into 3D trailers and filter their books into elementary schools. With less than half the time left, they might not meet their goal.

In that case, Billing and Rea will dip into the $9,830 they've raised for a traveling musical with the characters.

Rea has worked for companies like Disney and fundraised for AIDS, animal, and educational efforts for years.

"I've seen the power of cartoons," Rea said. "I just thought it's a great opportunity. They're spiritual animals and have a lot of inspirational qualities."

Both bullied as kids, Billing and Rea created a team to make the seven Wishaphant characters to be used in two nutrition and anti-bullying books. Rea and Billing want to teach kids to stop the bullying issue before it starts, which is why they're targeting such a young market at ages 5 to 8. They have also used part of their own $15,000 to create a 6-foot mascot, Ataro, which they use to promote their books and theme song at local schools in the Fort Lauderdale area.

Now, they're looking to raise $50,000 through self fundraising company, to make their animations 3D. Billing said a 90-second trailer will cost them $27-28,000 and increase their market.

"It would give us the ability to present these to bigger companies," Billing said.

The money they would have left over from the trailer would be used to distribute their books throughout elementary schools for free.

The fundraising campaign started on Oct. 21 and with less than half a month left, they're about $40,000 away from their goal. Rea said that if they don't raise the $50,000, he will consider extending the deadline. "We'll probably ask for 30 extra days. I think we knew going into it that 50,000 is really ambitious."

If after the extra 30 days they don't make enough money for the trailer, Rea wants to use his and Billing's experience in their production of Tusk for the New York Theatre Musical Festival on a traveling anti-bullying musical. "Every penny of that will be utilized into the program," Billing said.

Eventually, Billing and Rea want to expand their company internationally by developing merchandise like stuffed animals, activity sheets, and translating their books into Spanish versions.

"We just want to get these kids to the point where they don't want to take their life," Billing said. "They should be allowed to make mistakes and not be pushed to the side like garbage."

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