Central Coast Kind Magazine
May 9, 2018
Astounding Accomplishments, When Little Feet Take Big Steps
Written by Dennis Eamon Young
As I sat down with Alyssa, now fifteen and her mother, Tiffany, I was struck with her quiet demeanor and a sense that here was a normal teenager, regardless of her accomplishments. There was an easy sense of self-possession about her, not a driven publicity seeker, as could have been the case. I felt that she would rather have been out riding her horse named Nicki, than to talk about herself.
Alyssa tells me about the bullying she herself had experienced, to note that it sparked a desire to do something about it. The path she chos was to write The Purple Marble, when sh was eight, with to aim to her focus on showing others what a terrible thing it is being and how much better it is for everyone when we stop/change that type of behavior. She had been at work on it she had met best-selling author, Sheri Fink, who had come to Alyssa’s school to talk about her first book, The Little Rose, also centered on bullying. Alyssa told Sheri about her book and asked if Sheri would read it.
“From the moment I met Alyssa, I knew she was extra special.” Sheri says in the forward to The Purple Marble. “I was impressed that she had taken on such a challenging subject and followed her inspiration at such an early age. I know that Alyssa will continue to have a profound positive impact on the world through her books, her charity and her being.”
Born under the artistic sign of Pieces, Alyssa had begun to write stories at a younger age, but The Purple Marble…
Santa Ynez Valley News
April 8, 2018
Santa Ynez girl’s book that helps children deal with bullies, is now a PCPA play
Written by Mike Hodgson
When she was in the second grade, Santa Ynez resident Alyssa Antoci experienced something that children — and adults — have had to contend with probably since before humans learned to make fire. She became the target of a bully.
Her parents could have responded in a number of ways, from contacting the school administration demanding action to pulling Alyssa out of the school altogether. But her mother, Tiffany, took a more direct route.
“My mom called her mom, and she brought the girl over,” Alyssa said. “I was kind of scared because I didn’t know what would happen. But we talked it out.”
They became friends. The incident opened up a channel for communication, and Alyssa found she wasn’t alone in her ordeal when an older relative told her about how he had been bullied as a child. He had been overweight, and that became an excuse for some other students to pick on him and make his school life one of anxiety and fear. When he heard the bullies who were tormenting him say they were going on a “pig hunt,” he hid in the boys’ restroom to avoid being their prey. Although she was only 8 years old at the time, Alyssa already loved writing stories, and hearing about her relative’s experience inspired her to write a story about bullying.
Drawing heavily on her relative’s real-life experience, she created a tale about a fourth-grade boy named Max who is overweight and bullied because of it. Just like her relative did, Max hides in the restroom when his tormentors tell him they’re going on a pig hunt, and he’s the pig. But Alyssa threw in her own plot twist, bringing in the boy’s cousin Sophia — named for her own cousin — who comes from France to visit during summer vacation and teaches Max how to make some outrageously flavored pizzas that are a hit with family and friends. Max then dreams of becoming a gourmet chef and begins writing a pizza cookbook. But that only becomes another avenue for the bullies to harass him.
In fact, the bullying gets so bad it keeps Max from eating lunch, sends his schoolwork into a nosedive and damages his relationships with his best friend as well as his own family. Then he learns a secret about Brody, the boy who has led the campaign of bullying against him, that explains why he’s done it. Max realizes he has something that might make Brody feel better — a big purple marble — and gives it to him, changing Brody’s whole attitude.
“I like happy endings, so I wanted to end it happily,” Alyssa said. “I wanted them to all be friends in the end. Max just had to learn to stand up for himself.”
It took Alyssa somewhere between five and six months to complete the story.
“She had to learn a lot about writing,” her mother said. “Like she had to learn about symbolism. She’d taken a writing camp, and that helped.”
When she was done, Alyssa titled her story “The Purple Marble” because “sometimes something so small can stop something so big.”
“People don’t realize being kind is always the solution,” she said.
She also gave it a subtitle based on her own experience of being bullied and how she ended it.
“That’s why the book is called ‘Break the Circle,’” she explained. “You just have to be the one to stop it.”
The Story Continues
That might have been the end of Alyssa’s story, but when she was 11 years old, best-selling author Sheri Fink came to her fifth-grade class and gave a Powerpoint presentation about writing.
“Her first book was also about bullying, so I sent (my story) to her,” Alyssa said.
Her mom remembers, “(Sheri) called me and said, ‘You need to publish this book.’”
With editing help from Lori Polydoros and illustrations by Vicki Frazier, the book was published with sections at the end about what the characters learned and questions to spark discussions in a classroom or at home. It’s now in more than 200 schools across the United States and it’s been incorporated into the anti-bullying curriculum in many classrooms.
“A lot of teachers have gotten back to us about how it’s opened a discussion about bullying,” Alyssa said. “(One teacher) told me my book changed a lot in her classroom. She said it needs to be in every school in the U.S.”
She even heard from a teacher in England. Alyssa now visits classrooms to talk with students who have read her book and to share their experiences.
“The first thing I ask is, ‘How many here have been bullied,” she said. “About 90 percent of the people raise their hands. I tell them to keep them up and look around. I tell them, ‘I want you to see you’re not alone.’”
The book also led to Alyssa creating a nonprofit charity called Strength Behind Stars, which has a nine-member board of girls, including her sister, Olivia, who are Ambassadors for Kindness. They’ve launched Jeans for Teens to provide denims to youths who can’t afford them and Just a Little Cloth to provide dresses for needy girls.
A Musical Hit
The story might have ended there, but now “The Purple Marble” has been turned into a musical for PCPA’s Outreach program by Leo Cortez.
“Tiffany Antoci called on a Monday,” Cortez said. “They had attended ‘Shrek’ over the weekend, and she wondered if I’d produce her daughter’s book into a play. I said, ‘Get me a copy of the book and I’ll let you know.’”
Cortez said he wasn’t optimistic, since Alyssa had written it when she was only 8.
“I was really impressed,” Cortez said. “I was absolutely surprised at how well it was written. The lead character is surrounded by other characters that had meaning and purpose in the boy’s life. … It enlightened me. When I found it was a true story, I read it again.”
Cortez met with Alyssa and Tiffany and told them it had the potential to be a musical.
“It has comedy, pathos,” he said. “It’s lyrical. It even has a montage.”
But he also saw it as an important piece from a social standpoint.
“The idea of bullying is such a hot topic right now,” he said. “A lot of people have different views of it. But I can’t find anybody out there with the idea of how to solve the problem by acknowledging that both (the bully and the victim) are being bullied. That they actually could be friends.”
Cortez said he constructed and deconstructed the play over about two years until he finally had a workable piece. It was produced this year as part of the Outreach program at elementary schools in both Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties and was well received. After each performance, the PCPA interns who make up the cast meet with audience members to talk about the play. Sometimes, the children are in tears, but mostly they are in awe that someone has told their story.
“Every audience, someone has said, ‘Wow, that was really moving. That was not what I expected,’” Cortez said. “We played this for a junior high school. Normally, a children’s play would never fly at a junior high school. You’d get booed out. But this audience was engaged with the story and the actors.
“This is for anybody who’s had this experience. It means something.”
Alyssa seems a little surprised by the success of her story.
“I never thought that it would be a play or in more than 200 schools all over the U.S.,” she said.
Tiffany doesn’t think Alyssa completely grasps the chord she’s struck in so many young minds.
“I don’t think she really understands the impact the book has on kids,” she said.
To read more, visit: syvnews.com
Santa Ynez Valley News
February 26, 2018
Youth in Service awards: Antoci, Garcia, Hoose, Torres recognized for work
Written by Jennifer Best Contributing Writer
Santa Ynez Valley Union High School is turning out winners in the form of authors, nonprofit organizers and community volunteers, four of whom have been awarded the 2018 Santa Ynez Valley Youth in Service Award.
The Santa Ynez Valley Foundation and Santa Ynez Valley News have selected Alyssa Antoci, Samantha Garcia, Ella Hoose, and Ariana Avila Torres for the honor which will be celebrated at a gala dinner March 24 at Santa Ynez Valley Marriott in Buellton.
The Valley Foundation’s mission is to improve the lives of people in the Santa Ynez Valley and Los Alamos by investing in programs that feed the poor, promote health, nurture seniors, challenge youth and inspire the community to make a difference.
The foundation and newspaper created the youth award in 2012 as an extension of the Man and Woman of the Year program established in 1995. The youth award honors student in grades nine through 12 for outstanding services to others.
In addition to recognition plaques, each youth honoree will receive a $1,000 scholarship to be used for postsecondary education.
Here’s a look at this year’s youth standouts:
Alyssa Antoci was just 8 years old when she started writing her first book. Now that published title,“The Purple Marble,” serves as a teaching tool for anti-bullying campaigns in more than 200 schools throughout the United States and Great Britain. In 2018, it was adapted for musical theater by PCPA’s Outreach Program.
With her mother, Tiffany Salerno-Antoci, Alyssa founded Strength Behind Stars, a nonprofit striving to integrate “The Purple Marble” and anti-bullying efforts into grade schools across the nation.
“I wrote The Purple Marble because I wanted to share a family member’s horrific bullying story, not knowing I would be here today standing up for the larger movement it has become,” Antoci said.
“The best part about what I do is when I hear back from kids about how much my book and I have helped them,” she said. “Giving my time and effort to help and teach younger kids about how to stick up for themselves and letting them know they are not alone feels so fulfilling.”
In addition, Alyssa is co-founder of Just a Little Cloth children’s charity, a member of The Ability Awareness Project, kindness ambassador for The Great Kindness Challenger, and participates in rodeo through various associations.
To read more, visit: syvnews.com
Santa Ynez Valley Star
December 7, 2017
“Kindness Concert” Combats Bullying at Standing Sun
Written by Jessica Schley
With one simple message “Together we can end bullying,” the Kindness Concert will be at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 10 at Standing Sun. The concert is about music, dance, singing and poetry put together by 14-year-old Alyssa Antoci.
Proceeds will benefit Ambassadors for Kindness (AFK), a program for K-5 schools that teaches children and young adults how to recognize and eliminate bullying among their peers. The program is one of several projects sponsored by the nonprofit Strength Behind Stars.
The anti-bullying school program was inspired by a book called “The Purple Marble” which was written by Alyssa when she was just 8-years-old. After the book became a success, Alyssa and her mother Tiffany Salerno-Antoci founded Strength Behind Stars. Since then, the program has been brought into multiple elementary schools all over California. The nonprofit’s goal is to integrate the program into all grade schools everywhere.
Alyssa attends the Santa Ynez Valley Union High School as a freshman and her book has recently been adapted into a play by PCPA and will be performed in schools around the Central Coast.
Alyssa is not only one of the organizers of the concert, and will also be one of the 11 vocalists performing. Her motto and the nonprofit’s mission “Be the voice of Hope.” This motto is inspired by a girl named Hope who took her own life due to bullying.
Santa Barbara Teen Star finalist Jake Gildred will be the Kindness Concert show host, which is slated to feature local musician Bear Redell, now dubbed “the Singing Linebacker” at UCLA. There will also be a special video appearance by alternative folk band, Blind Innocence. A performance by a local dance group will also be featured. A food truck from Tacos Amigos will be serving food, cash bar and complimentary baked goods from Solvang Bakery will be available for concert goers from 4:30 – 5:30 p.m. with the entertainment from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. Limited tickets available at the door. Space limited.
To learn more, visit: santaynezvalleystar.com
LIFE & STYLE
Photographed by Shannon Jayne
Written by Elena Tico
Hair & Makeup by Stephanie Recio with Carlyle Salon & Style Bar
Stunning mountain views surround Bella & Tate Farms, which centers around an American fag. A shoe rack full of cowboy boots welcomes me outside the door of the beautiful contemporary farmhouse. Tiffany, and her daughters Alyssa and Olivia, warmly introduce themselves as Tiffany offers me ice-cold water with a perfectly sliced orange in a mason jar. Her kitchen is lined with bowls of fresh produce and the table has the most gorgeous colorful roses cut from her garden. Tiffany asks if I prefer inside or outside for the location of our interview. Although it is 90 degrees, we settle on the back porch to fully enjoy the beauty of the property.
The Antoci family resides in the Santa Ynez Valley. Tiffany was a Hollywood actress, who graduated from UCLA with a degree in Theatre and played a role in Forrest Gump. Vito is a builder, who designed and built Bella & Tate Farms among many other projects. Alyssa (13) is author of The Purple Marble, a motivational speaker and co-founder of the charity Just a Little Cloth. Olivia (10) recently founded the charity Just a Little Sole. Alyssa and Olivia love creating ideas for nonprofts and products to sell; they are exceptionally entrepreneurial and kind. These warm hearted girls encourage each other to be better people and motivate their parents’ involvement in their endeavors.
Tiffany and Vito spent nine years raising their daughters in Newport Beach before looking for a more humble lifestyle to complement their philanthropic personalities. In the Valley, Alyssa and Olivia’s daily lives consist of swimming, writing, riding horses, and playing with their fve dogs. Tiffany does not fail to mention the chores she assigns the girls, such as washing the ponies and dogs, retrieving fresh eggs, planting vegetable gardens, doing the dishes after dinner, and cleaning their rooms.
What I love about the Antoci family is their inherent generosity. Tiffany discloses, “I teach my children that it is our blessing to give back to others. I don’t want my girls to have a “big house” attitude or an entitled mentality.” She now focuses on her nonproft, Strength Behind Stars, a movement to incorporate an anti-bullying program into local schools where peers mentor peers in the program Ambassadors for Kindness. They are planning a beneft concert this year, in honor of a young Paso Robles girl named Hope, who recently took her own life due to bullying. The funds raised will bring top anti-bullying advocates and speakers to schools that are less fortunate.
” Their motivation proves anyone has the power to make a difference. “
Alyssa co-founded Just a Little Cloth at age 8. She explains, “I wanted to make dresses and donate them to girls who can’t afford them so they can feel like princesses. We started gathering material and stapled it together to make dresses.” They soon realized that donating their own dresses and gathering dress donations from others was more productive, and thus the charity was born. Just a Little Cloth has partnered with various organizations such as the Children’s Hospital of Orange County, the Thomas House, Illumination Foundation, the Santa Ines Mission, and many schools. This year, Just a Little Cloth will be working with People Helping People to collect dresses for the girls in the Santa Barbara Foster Care System.
Recently, Olivia started Just A Little Sole to umbrella under Alyssa’s charity. Olivia collected shoes to give to the Santa Ines Mission at Christmastime, and is looking forward to being involved in more philanthropic events with Strength Behind Stars. After chatting with Olivia, we pause our interview as she carries out her favorite local pastries from Mortensen’s Danish Bakery in a beautiful glass cake dome. It is clear that both Alyssa and Olivia inherited the hostess gene, and do not fall short of making their guests feel welcome.
I further our discussion to chat with Alyssa about The Purple Marble, which she published at eight years old. The Purple Marble is a true story about Alyssa’s family member who was bullied for being overweight. Alyssa describes the inspiration behind her book, “Not only was I bullied as most kids are, but when I heard his story it really touched me.” Sheri Fink, an author, visited Alyssa’s school and encouraged Tiffany and Alyssa to publish The Purple Marble. Alyssa now speaks at book fairs, libraries and school events. Her momentum and inspiration continue to grow when students express that her stories made a difference in their lives. When asked what advice she would give to someone who is currently being bullied, Alyssa shares, “Stay strong and stand up for yourself. Find a sentence or word that you can use every time someone is mean to you, and don’t be mean back. Push through and be brave. The person who is bullying is usually hurting inside.” The Purple Marble is currently in 45 schools with the goal to reach every school in America. Alyssa is currently writing two more books, one will be the sequel to The Purple Marble, and the other is a chapter book, which will have about 20 chapters.
Before I leave the Antoci home, Tiffany insists I take baked goodies and freshly picked plums with me, her generosity radiating. I drive away inspired to embody the Antoci spirit in my own life. Alyssa and Olivia’s entrepreneurial, brave minds are an important reminder to advocate for the causes you believe in. Their motivation proves anyone has the power to make a difference. *
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