Teen helps others deal with bullying

Staff Writer

One young man in Marlboro is a knight in shining armor, a distinction that comes not only from his supporters, but also from Johnson & Johnson and the Rutgers University Athletic Department.

Aidan Benavides, 13, is no stranger to bullying. Since the fourth grade, Aidan, who is in eighth grade, has been picked on and taunted because he has shown an interest in theater and singing.

But Aidan rose above the stinging words that were directed toward him and created an outlet for other children who may also be on the receiving end of a bully’s unkindness.

In recognition of his dedication to helping others throughAidan’s Voice, the young man was recently honored during a Rutgers football game as a “Knight in Shining Armor.”

Rutgers’ teams are known as the Scarlet Knights.

At the beginning of the 2011 college football season, Johnson & Johnson and Rutgers Athletics teamed up to recognize and reward the caring work of young people throughout New Jersey.

These “Knights in Shining Armor” are invited guests at Rutgers football and basketball games. One specially selected “Knight” is recognized on the field or the court at each home game, according to Jason Kroll, senior associate athletic director, external affairs, at Rutgers.

“We proudly recognized Aidan Benavides on the field of High Point Solutions Stadium on Sept. 24 when Rutgers played Ohio University. Aidan’s efforts to help others who have been the victims of bullying struck us deeply. The courage, commitment and compassion he displays in selflessly helping others is moving and exemplary,” Kroll said.

During the years that Aidan has dealt with the words of bullies, his family members and friends have been a constant support system.

His mother, Danielle, said she would see Aidan’s expression when he came home from school and know something was wrong. Through discussions and a lot of loving support, Aidan has overcome the negative feelings bullying can cause and he expressed a desire to help others who are the targets of a bully.

With the help of his family, Aidan launched www.aidansvoice.com and a Facebook fan page. From the time it launched earlier this year, people have signed on to support Aidan and his initiative.

People who also are being bullied have a haven of support through Aidan’s Voice. Those who feel comfortable write in to tell about their experiences, comforted by the knowledge that they are not alone in these experiences. The website provides inspirational quotes, songs and videos for those who may be being bullied.

Aidan’s website is not only an outlet for children who are being bullied, but for the parents of children who are dealing with the consequences of having a child who is being bullied.

Benavides said her advice to parents who see this happening in their child’s life is to get the child to talk about what is happening and to offer their child support.

“Be their toughest critic and biggest cheerleader,” she said.

In recognition of his efforts to help give strength to those who have been and are being bullied, Aidan was honored through the “Knight in Shining Armor” program.

Aidan’s mom said her son’s peers, teachers and community members wrote letters in support of Aidan. He was unaware that many people were nominating him for the honor.

Aidan was excited to learn of his selection. More than 100 of his friends, family members and supporters were at the Rutgers football game to see him honored.

“It was really cool just to see how somebody who may not know a lot about [Aidan’s Voice] can still applaud it,” Aidan said of his experience at High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway on Sept. 24.

Aidan has big dreams for Aidan’s Voice. The Benavides family has recently submitted paperwork in the hope of securing nonprofit status for the organization. The ultimate goal would be to raise funds to support school-based programs, including those related to bullying, drugs, body image and other issues teenagers and young children may face.

Aidan said that while he still hears a rude remark occasionally directed his way, some things have changed. He said one former bully recently stood up for him when another youngster tossed an insult Aidan’s way.

Aidan offers an insightful view, pointing out that “not everyone is going to like you, but they still need to respect you.”