A native Houstonian, Sheila is an author and founder of The Thread Alliance, an organization driven to help victims of child abuse and put an end to the cycle of this social malady. She believes that if only one child is being abused, that is one child too many.
By Sara G. Stephens
HFM: What were you like as a child? Did you exhibit the characteristics of social awareness that fuel you as an adult?
SA: I always cared very much about others’ feelings. I have volunteered for many causes that were very meaningful, but nothing would impact my life as much as child abuse awareness. I now serve on the board of Harris County Protective Service and hear firsthand the huge scope of this problem.
HFM: In your fight to end the cycle of child abuse, you wrote a book “I’m Glad I’m Me: Weaving the Thread of Love From Generation to Generation.” Please explain the message of this book and your concept for how it should be read and used.
SA: My book is a parenting book disguised as a children’s book. It teaches parents and children together how to express their feelings under the best conditions and the worst and still be kind, respectful, and loving. My book teaches the language of love, regardless of age.
I have written a Reader Enrichment Guide, found on sheilaaronbooks.com, that explains the thought behind each page of the book. There are subtle messages throughout that are not mentioned but make an impact on the reader and child. For instance, a multi-colored thread appears on the cover of the book and on every page but is never mentioned until the last page. The thread symbolizes the “thread of love” that surrounds each of us but can’t be seen.
There are interactive questions at the back of the book for parents and children to share their thoughts and feelings. Parents can see that children may be small, but their feelings are just as big as theirs; and children can see that parents may be big, but they have fears too. This sharing of feelings allows them to bond and [enables] love to grow.
HFM: Take us to how you go to where you are today. What prompted you to found The Thread Alliance?
SA: My book was the beginning of this journey for me. I began reading it at schools and giving each child a copy to take home, but I soon realized that I wasn’t reaching the greater community to spread my message of ending the cycle of child abuse.
I founded The Thread Alliance, a web-based nonprofit organization, in 2011. Thethreadalliance.org provides a central registry of local, state, and national resources for those seeking child abuse prevention, intervention or treatment information and services. There is a bright orange link at the top of the page for kids and teens with phone numbers and websites if they or someone they know is being abused. And to include the entire community in this endeavor, there is a Community Page that offers suggestions for those who want to help by volunteering.
For another overlooked population, those who need closure for abuse they suffered and who want to help end the cycle of child abuse for today’s generation, [the site offers] suggestions for becoming involved.
HFM: Do you think that children today have a greater need to hear and feel they are loved than children of previous generations?
SA: Humans have always needed to feel connected and loved since the beginning of time. Children look to the role models closest to them to teach them how to be loved and show love.
Parents want to be good role models for their children but lack parenting skills, and often abuse the very person to whom they desperately want to show love. This thought guided me as I wrote my book: to be able to help parents and children learn how to say the three simple words “I love you.” Many parents never heard these words and don’t’ know how to say them to their own children. It is with care and understanding that parents and children learn together.
HFM: Why does the behavior of child abuse lend itself to this cyclical nature more so than other social maladies?
SA: The cycle of child abuse is what happens when children are abused and grow up thinking that is how they are supposed to treat their own children. It is at this important time that parents who want to break this cycle of abuse and learn good parenting skills begin to look for another solution other than abuse.
Changing behavior is the key to ending the cycle of abuse so that the next generation will repeat the lessons of respect, compassion, and kindness. Everyone deserves to have a childhood free of abuse and grow up with the knowledge that we are loved, both by words and actions.
HFM: In 2013, you launched the Blue Plate Special, a program through which local restaurants offer a “Blue Plate Special,” and proceeds from each dish go back to The Thread Alliance. How successful has this program been? How can readers get involved?
SA: I am thrilled to say the Blue Plate Special, which is The Thread Alliance’s “gala,” is very successful and gives us an opportunity to take to the community our message that child abuse should never happen; it is preventable, and help is available. The participating restaurants have my deepest appreciation for their help in getting the message out there. Community cooperation is the first step in ending the cycle of child abuse.
HFM: Are you actually able to envision a world that is free from child abuse? How do we get there?
SA: I absolutely am able to envision a world free of child abuse. With the help of everyone in our community, we are causing a ripple effect that can reach around the world. Child abuse is a learned behavior. I hope that a new cycle will begin, one that teaches parents and children to love, laugh, and respect each other. Only then will child abuse be a thing of the past.
HFM: You were recently named one of FamilyTime’s 2017 Women of Achievement Award honorees in the category of human service. What did this honor mean to you?
SA: It validates what I have been doing, and I can say with confidence “I’m Glad I’m Me.”
HFM: Is there a next chapter for you beyond The Thread Alliance?
SA: My next chapter is to continue on this same path with the hope of seeing my book translated into every language so that parents around the world who want to be the best they can be for their children will have the help they so desperately need and want.
For more information about The Thread Alliance, visit thethreadalliance.org.