A few weeks ago, we were approached on Twitter by an account I had not yet heard of: @helpspreadthis. Their request was a simple one: “It’s #stopchildabuse Thursday, PopWrapped. Can we get a retweet?” We sent out our tweet and have been doing so every week since; but I started to speak a bit with the owner of this account, Steve Cosentino. I was greeted with warmth and graciousness, and genuine gratitude for my interest in his project; a project I gather doesn’t quite get the recognition if deserves.
I asked if Steve would be interested in speaking more with me so that I could write a feature piece about him and the #helpspreadthis initiative. He agreed, but wanted to make it clear that this was not about him: it was about the kids. In truth he’s a fascinating man. He is one of the lucky ones. He was never abused or has experienced any abuse in his lifetime, and yet the suffering of the millions of battered children in the world was enough to call him to action.
I typed up a questionnaire for him to answer so that he was able to tell his story and give us a bit of background in his own words. Keep reading for his answers to those questions.
PopWrapped: What inspired you to start the @helpspreadthis initiative? Do you or someone you know have personal experience with child abuse?
Steve: I come from a great, loving family of 6 kids. I had a fantastic childhood, I guess I just have a lot of empathy for others. Any time I heard a story about a child being abused or hurt, it stayed with me a bit. My inspiration to start the @helpspreadthis initiative is best summed up, I think, by the email I sent to Martha Shulzinger; who, at the time, worked for Childhelp.org:
My name is Steve Cosentino. I am responsible for the @helpspreadthis twitter page.
Earlier today I contacted Childhelp.org through the website to receive information on becoming a Childhelp Wings Ambassador.
A bit about me: I am a husband and father of 2 children. 2 year old Morgan and 6 year old Cooper.
I was raised in a very loving and stable home with 5 brothers and sisters. I have never suffered from abuse.
Over the last several years (as I paid more attention to the news) I have heard more and more heartbreaking stories of child abuse.
Earlier this year I was driving down I95 and passed a vehicle on the side of the road that was surrounded by police tape and vehicles. I learned later that day that it was the vehicle in which they had found Nubia and Victor Barahona. It changed me in some way … pushed me to do something.
It was then that I created this petition http://www.change.org/petitions/stop-child-abuse. I emailed it to friends, family and business contacts.
I wanted to distribute it more. I created my first twitter account.
In a short period I had many twitter friends and many agreed to rt the petition for me.
And that was my inspiration.
(For context, Nubia and Victor Barahona are twins whose adoptive parents tortured them by dousing them in Clorox, drain cleaners and ice water; and fed them a lump of bread and one glass of milk a week)
PopWrapped: Other than raising awareness for this worthy cause, what was the goal for this campaign?
Steve: I guess originally it was that the petition would go viral and that so many people would read it and sign it that it would eventually draw the attention of someone who could really help change the system that is responsible for the welfare of our children (once a complaint of abuse has been registered of when a child is put through the foster care system). I know there are no easy answers but we can’t have the same system in place that allowed for the years of abuse and torture to Nubia and Victor, and eventually of the murder of Nubia, to still be in place today.
PopWrapped: What has been the highlight of your work with @helpspreadthis thus far?
Steve: I don’t if I would use the word highlight. It was very satisfying to me when March from Childhep reinforced the importance of the @helpspreadthis campaign. The initial collaboration with Childhelp really substantiated for me that a simple twitter account/facebook page/website could help make a difference just by working it and getting information in front of people; hopefully making more and more people realize the scope of the problem and getting them to take some sort of action and help.
PopWrapped: Tell me about Childhelp and your collaborative efforts to raise awareness on child abuse.
Steve: I wasn’t sure whether the campaign was really doing any good or making a difference early on. I was thinking about abandoning it after a couple twitter accounts tweeted some negative things out about what we were doing. They said tweeting about child abuse was a waste of time or we should not take attention away from organizations that were already setup to take donations and had programs in place, like Childhelp or the NSPCC. That is when I sent a DM to the twitter page of @Childhelp asking them if that was the case. If they were to respond in any way that implied what I was doing could deter from their efforts I was going to stop what I was doing and delete the twitter page. The response I received from Martha was the complete opposite. Martha had the same vision I did: To utilize the account and build on the “Donate a Tweet” to, not only raise awareness, but to get the information out on new programs, enter online voting contests and, hopefully, raise some money.
Once we (Martha and me) set up the Justcoz page, we worked on several campaigns together:
- Hugs not Slugs – SelflessTee.com/childhelp was one of the campaigns. We raised over $2,600 for Childhelp.
- We worked together to raise funds for a short film on the subject of child abuse. You can read here how we raised over $3,000 in only a couple of hours through our twitter campaign.
- I found an online voting contest for nonprofits sponsored by Zoomerang. Martha set up a page for Childhelp and then utilizing our “donated tweets” we came in runner up and won $1,000 for Childhelp.
- Together we created the “Donate a Dollar” campaign which to date has raised over $3,900 for Childhelp.
Martha left Childhelp in 2012.
PopWrapped: Do you plan on organizing any more fundraisers in the near future? Have you found Twitter campaigns where users can donate tweets to be a successful fundraising tool?
Steve: Absolutely. After Martha left Childhelp I unfortunately sort of lost my relationship with them. Her replacement was not really familiar with me or what I was doing and I think they just had a lot on their hands at the time. Soon after Martha left Childhelp I reached out to other organizations who help abused children and offered to help. It was because of the @helpspreadthis campaign and the donated tweets I was able to help @missionKidsCAC win an online voting contest, sponsored by L’Oreal, win a $25,000 grant. @IJM reached out to me asking if we could produce a donated tweet for them. Just yesterday I helped a film maker fund a film about child abuse, foster care and the effects on all of us. Here is the donated tweet that went out:
— #stopchildabuse (@helpspreadthis) September 17, 2014
— Mariel Hemingway (@MarielHemingway) September 16, 2014
So I don’t have anything planned but I am always looking for the right opportunity. Here is a page I built so that people can see how their donated tweets help and to encourage more people to donate tweets.
PopWrapped: How can people get involved in this initiative; in both big ways and small?
Steve: Besides donating a tweet and being aware of what child abuse and neglect looks like so that they know when to report it, I always encourage people to visit Childhelp.org. Here they can explore different ways they can get involved.
PopWrapped: What does it mean to you when you get private messages from child abuse survivors thanking you for your work?
Steve: It really moves me. I can’t imagine what they might have gone through as a child. It makes me feel really good that, in some way, this campaign helps them heal or lets them know that people really do care about each other and people do care about this issue and we want to do something about it.
PopWrapped: What growth have you seen in the @helpspreadthis campaign since its inception?
Steve: I guess there are a couple ways to measure the growth. Twitter followers are over 31k. Facebook followers are almost 4k. Petition has almost 3k signatures. Over 600 followers on Pinterest. The website gets close to 2k hits per month.
Over 22k twitter accounts have given us access and permission to send out tweets through their twitter page with a total reach of over 36 million twitter users each time we send out a broadcast tweet.
So I guess in one sense the growth of the campaign has been good, but from my point of view I don’t understand how those numbers are not much greater.
In my mind I don’t understand how anyone could not care about this cause, or want to somehow support it… even if it is following a twitter page or donating a tweet. I’m working every day to increase those numbers.
PopWrapped: What do you hope comes from this interview? What is the best way any one person can you help you?
Steve: What I do not want is for this to be about me. I want it to be about the problem and how wide-spread and horrific it is. I want it to raise awareness. I want people to reach out to Childhelp or push someone along who was thinking about becoming a foster parent.
Or, more importantly, push someone who suspects a child in their neighborhood or school or even family may be a victim of abuse, push them to report it.
The best way to help me is simply to join the campaign. Follow us, RT us, Like our page, share our posts and donate a tweet. The more people that we get on board the more we raise awareness; and the more people we reach when we do specific campaigns, the more likely that maybe a child will be saved. (And, yes; I do think just from raising awareness that it’s possible that either a parent or guardian might think twice before doing something they might regret, or it will prompt someone to report suspected abuse).
PopWrapped: Do you think this cause would mean so much to you if you were not a father? Does the fact that you have children of your own make this campaign more personal for you?
Steve: I do think having children myself makes it more personal. I understand that parenting can be difficult and stressful at times. But I also understand the great responsibility it is to be a parent. One of the messages I like to post is:
— #stopchildabuse (@helpspreadthis) September 16, 2014
PopWrapped: What has been the most heartbreaking experience you’ve had since delving into the world of child abuse?
Steve: Every story I read that involves a child losing their life to abuse is absolutely heartbreaking. They are all heartbreaking, but the one that really sticks with me goes back to the one that started this campaign. Victor and Nubia Barahona.
PopWrapped: And what has been the most uplifting or hopeful?
Steve: I try to post a lot of positive things, quotes and such because there is not too much that can be considered uplifting about this particular subject and I don’t want it to be overwhelmingly negative or sad. But I would say the most hopeful things that have happened have been the instances where someone has messaged me asking what they should do because they thought a child was being abused, and just maybe a child was saved. To me that is hopeful because maybe people are starting to get the message that we all are responsible when it comes to protecting our children.
PopWrapped: Is there anything you would like to say to child abuse survivors, or those still suffering from abuse at this time?
Steve: It’s hard for me to have something to say to a survivor because I didn’t experience it. But I would offer up this: you are not alone. It amazes me how many people have reached out to me to say they were abused. There are so many people that care about this issue and so many people are working hard to make things better.To those suffering from abuse (assuming they are old enough)…tell someone and keep telling until it stops.
PopWrapped: Is there anything you’d like to add that I may not have asked you directly?
Steve: Child abuse can’t be looked at as something that just happens to some unfortunate child. Child abuse contributes in large part to the degradation of our society and societies all over the world. We get numb and accepting of things we shouldn’t accept.
We couldn’t agree more, Steve. As he so concisely pointed out above, there are myriad ways to get involved in this campaign. And just in case you’re not convinced that this is something worth our time, here a few reminders for you:
— Karina Martínez (@solojessie) September 18, 2014
DID YOU KNOW ~ Approximately 1295 Children have been Killed in the US due to Child Abuse – this year alone .. #StopChildAbuse
— #stopchildabuse (@helpspreadthis) September 18, 2014
In the next 24 hours ………. pic.twitter.com/gjQUVbIubU
— #stopchildabuse (@helpspreadthis) September 17, 2014
— est. 9/94 (@Beexll) September 18, 2014
Are you still ready to move on to the next story about Justin Bieber being an idiot or Kim Kardashian taking a selfie? For the good of your soul, our future, and for the world in general; I sincerely hope not.
Make sure to check out the #helpspreadthis twitter page and their website for more information about this incredible cause and for ways to get involved. They need your help more than you know.
Thank you to Steve for, not only answering my questions, but for sticking by this campaign. You are an inspiration and your good work will only continue to help people; of that I am sure.
Keep up with PopWrapped on the web!