First, a little about the book:
The Cat That Went To Homecoming is the coming of age story of Ellen Jones, an overweight teenage girl from a single family home. She is under constant attack by her peers, bullied because of her weight and her family’s poverty. Through volunteer work with her cat, Hershey, Ellen finds her self esteem and the courage to stand up to her bullies. Along the way, she discovers what true friendship and forgiveness are and tells us how Hershey became The Cat That Went To Homecoming.
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Julie: Loneliness can lead to a sedentary lifestyle, and Ellen was lonely for many years. Ellen lives in a suburban neighborhood where most of the residents are upper-middle class families. She is bullied over the fact that her clothes and shoes are not designer brand. Her Mother doesn’t receive child support on a regular basis from her ex husband, and her income alone is not enough to support a healthy diet so she and Ellen eat a lot of high-carb foods like Ramen Noodles and Hamburger Helper. A poor diet can lead to obesity, and unfortunately, Ellen is overweight. Combining her weight with her poverty, Ellen is a perfect target for a bully. After years of being insulted, she built a wall around herself that Hershey helped her break down.
Laura: Do you think that the fact Ellen comes from a low-income, single parent family enough reason for her to have low self esteem? Do you think that a teen with one loving parent can be happy and secure?
Julie: Coming from a low income, single parent home is not the only contributing factor to Ellen’s low self esteem. Teens growing up in single parent homes have every opportunity to be happy and secure as teens in two parent homes do. Their changing hormones, new relationships and new experiences can bring about feelings of insecurity. A parent or parents can only help their child cope with these insecurities if the child communicates with them about the issues. Statistics show that 64% of the victims of bullying never tell their parents that they are being bullied. Ellen happens to be one of those 64 percent.
Laura: What do you think would have happened to Ellen if she hadn’t had Jane in her life? How does Ellen’s cat Hershey help her?
Julie: Jane is the director of a volunteer group of therapy animal teams. It is with Jane’s help that Ellen is able to take the Pet Partners online course and train her cat, Hershey, for work in animal assisted therapy. Jane not only gives Ellen a laptop, she also offers her a summer job to help pay Hershey’s registration fees. Once Hershey’s registration is finalized, Ellen and Hershey become a part of Jane’s team of volunteers.
Ellen could have used the library or found another way to get online to take the Pet Partners course, but since Jane gives Ellen her old laptop, the process is much easier for her. However; without Jane in her life, Ellen may never discover the joy of animal assisted therapy.
Ellen’s work with Hershey creates a relationship with a woman she otherwise would not have gotten to know, and that person will teach Ellen valuable lessons about life.
I like to say that it is BECAUSE of Hershey that Ellen finally goes to homecoming. Ellen’s work with Hershey gives her confidence, and more importantly, a purpose in life.
Laura: What advice would you give to someone who is being bullied?
Julie:TELL SOMEONE! Don’t just take it and let all the insults and abuse pile up on you until you can’t climb out from underneath it. Your parents will not be ashamed of you. Your school guidance counselor is another person with whom you can talk. He or she can direct you to the proper channels to resolve the bullying. Schools are obligated to address bullying and harassment when the behavior violates federal education anti-discrimination laws.
Laura: What would you do if you encountered someone who is bullying someone else? Have you ever bullied someone?
Julie: I would point out the behavior to the offender, asking them how they would feel were the roles reversed. I taught my daughter to be compassionate and respectful of others and made my expectations of her very clear. When I found out she was being bullied, I went to the school personally and spoke to the principle, teachers, and I even called parents to bring their child’s behavior to their attention. One Mother wasn’t so kind on the phone and made me realize why her child was a bully, but one Mother actually made her son write my daughter an apology letter.
I can’t say I haven’t bullied anyone, bulling is everywhere. It’s in the schools, in the home, in the workplace. I’m ashamed to say I have laughed at jokes made at someone else’s expense. But my experiences as a victim have turned me into a “people pleaser” for the most part. I do not go out of my way to hurt anyone’s feelings and I’m always as polite and as careful as possible given the situation. I do not discriminate against race, religion, political beliefs, appearance, or sexual preference. I won’t discuss politics or religion. To me, FAT is the “F” word, and gay means happy.
Laura: Have you ever been bullied and if so, how has if affected you?
Julie: I had a “Darcel” and a “John” in my life, along with others who followed their lead. To this day I have self esteem issues, there’s no denying that. I will never be satisfied with my appearance, but I have found a way to live with that and hopefully I can help someone else combat their bullies.
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About Julie Otzelberger
My name is Julie Otzelberger and I am no stranger to bullying. I grew up in a small suburb in Wisconsin and was overweight for most of my life. The comments made by classmates still haunt me after over thirty years. I admit I’ve had self esteem issues all of my life because of the bullying I underwent, and in an effort to overcome it, in January 2010 I underwent gastric bypass surgery.
Anyone with pets will tell you how special the bond between a pet and owner is because of the he unconditional love pets offer. I’ve had many cats during my life, all of them special and dear to me. I currently have four cats, one of whom I am a registered animal handler of through Pet Partners. My cat Bear and I currently volunteer for Heartland Hospice and Health Heelers, and I find this to be the most rewarding experience of my life. Gastric Bypass surgery may have changed my appearance and the way some people treat me, but my work with Bear has changed how I feel about myself and has given me the self esteem I’ve been lacking.
Hershey is a combination of each cat God has blessed me with over the years. My life was similar to Ellen’s, but I did not find anything like Pet Partners until very recently. I hope I help a young girl finds her way to Pet Partners and follow her altruistic path with her best friend.
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About Laura Kennedy
LAURA KENNEDY lives in Tarpon Springs, a Greek sponge fishing town on the West Coast of Florida. She grew up in Minneapolis where her mother was a romance writer who helped her father support the family. By the time she was twenty-two, she lived in Southern California, was married, had a baby, and was broke, the perfect Petri dish for the beginning of a writing career. Encouraged by her mother’s writing success, Laura borrowed her mother’s portable typewriter on which she concocted her first story that sold for the staggering sum of $225.
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Have you ever been a victim of a bully?
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