A brief confrontation in the parking lot of a grocery store prompted a mother to protect her son and write a new children’s book to help others, “Leap of Faith.”
The two-part book was written in verse by JoAnn Warmijak. The book deals with both bullying and friendship.
JoAnn had reached her limit when college-aged kids shouted “oompa loompa” from a car window. JoAnn’s first reaction was to find out if her son Mark has an intellectual disability and is legally blind and deaf.
“It was a big step back to when I was in school,” said JoAnn, herself having been bullied as a college student.
Mark, who has some eyesight, understands facial expressions and body language. When he didn’t seem to react, JoAnn knew he hadn’t gotten the message the people in the car had sent. Mark was fine, but old feelings for mom resurfaced and she was hurt.
Earlier, pregnant with Mark, JoAnn dropped out of school in grade 10 after being bullied.
“It hurt for my son and the child I once was too,” JoAnn said. “I didn’t know what to say to my bullies.”
She had approached one or two adults but they didn’t help and she gave up.
“Not all children feel like they can talk to parents,” she said.
The 57-year-old Uwchlan Township resident wants parents to look for warning signs of bullying because the kids might not say something.
JoAnn has also written about the life-changing power of friendship.
“To all the young people who have read this book, thank you for reading it! said the mother of three. “I hope this inspires you to be a good friend and to be kind to everyone, whether they are your friend or not.
“Distinguish between friends and bullies. Even if you have been bullied you can make friends, there are real friends out there.
JoAnn thinks adults understand the seriousness of bullying better now than when she was a child. She encourages young people not to hold back and to express themselves.
Mark attends an adult day program at Royer-Greaves in Paoli, a school for the blind and visually impaired with additional disabilities. He also lives in a group home run by Royer-Greaves Services, which is part of the same non-profit organization.
Mom: “Before Royer-Greaves, Mark only wanted to be with me, but Royer-Greaves helped him become more independent. He’s really happy when he’s there, at home and at school, and he’s never had that in his life.
“Now if anything happens to me I know Mark is taken care of. They are angels.
The following is an excerpt from “Leap of Faith:”
“It’s not good when someone comes after you.
The constant teasing can get you to the ground.
You have to go see an adult who is in the area.
Tell an adult, don’t be afraid.
No one has the right to come after you.
JoAnn intentionally uses words and phrases that a child might have written.
“I wanted to reach out to elementary school kids because once they get to middle school it’s too late,” she said. “The evil is already done.
“This bullying needs to stop and it needs to be tackled at a younger age. “
The illustrations for the book were prepared by a child, Sadie Boulden, then 9 years old. Sadie is the granddaughter of retired family doctor, Dr. Stephanie Bennett, who has been Mark and JoAnn’s doctor and remains their friend. JoAnn thought she might reach elementary-aged readers better if a youngster drew the pictures and JoAnn loved Sadie’s work. It was Bennett who contacted publisher Orison Publishers, Inc.
“I read the words, and the rain fell and the pictures went straight to the paper,” Sadie said.
Now that JoAnn is a published author, she is excited to write more on other topics.
In October 2017, I visited Royer-Greaves. The blind students then rocked and rolled over to live guitar music and other hand instruments.
It was an uplifting experience and there were a lot more smiles (including mine) after the music. It is a very special place.
JoAnn Warmijak will donate all proceeds from book sales to Royer-Greaves School for the Blind and Royer-Greaves Services. The book is available online at Barnes & Noble, Walmart, Amazon, and Target.
For more information on Royer Greaves, visit www.royer-greaves.org
Bill Rettew is a weekly columnist and resident of Chester County. He doesn’t always like what he sees but keeps looking. You can contact him at [email protected]