Whenever he got mad, he’d hit something.
In fact, the first thing he’d always do is hit.
One day, unbeknownst to the little boy, his teacher happened to notice him getting mad. She watched him start to ball up his fists. His teacher watched on with trepidation, ready to take action — when the boy stopped.
His teacher started to see something wonderful happening.
The little one started talking to himself.
Then, he lowered his fists.
And walked away.
His teacher smiled.
The little boy had just been in a class — given at his school — on what to do when he got angry.
What he needed to do with his anger.
This class was vitally important because teachers were being injured when their young students would throw tantrums, said Dr. Tom Biller, executive director of the Behavioral Reserach Institute in Cleveland.
A program from BRI called PEACE — which stands for Pre-school and Elementary Anger Control Effect — brought classes to these students, ages pre-school to third grade, to help them deal with their anger more appropriately. Red. Yellow. Green. These colors taught them to stop their initial aggressive behavior, identify their anger and to choose a more appropriate and non-violent behavior.
“Hands are for helping, not for hurting” is what this program taught them what to do with their anger, Biller explained.
“And this one program carried over past one class into other years,” Biller said.
As an expert in child abuse issues, the doctor spoke to Bradley Sunrise Rotary recently about the October 1976 child abuse and murder case of Melisha Gibson and what has been done to stop child abuse in the area since.
“It was a tragic life and death,” Biller said of little 4-year-old Gibson who was tortured to death by her stepfather while her mother allowed it to happen.
When Melisha was just 11 months old, her stepfather and mother were both convicted and spent nine months in jail for abusing the little girl. But after the couple was released, they regained custody of Melisha.
On Oct. 13, 1976, the stepfather called the Sheriff’s Department, saying his daughter was bleeding. When they got to the house, they found the little girls’ dead body curled up on the floor naked, bruised, with hot sauce in her mouth. Her stepfather had made Melisha march around the house naked for days on her tip toes without food or water for bedwetting.
In March 1977, the couple was convicted of second degree murder and given 99-year sentences for torturing their daughter to death.
This case created a national firestorm. It forced the Human Services Department to create a $1 million emergency program to improve their services. Melisha’s tragedy created changes in the department’s reviews and “(Stopping child abuse is) a cause for me ... I’ve dedicated my life to preventing child abuse and violence in the home.” — Dr. Tom Biller, not only in Tennessee but around the nation.
It was the first such case Biller worked in Cleveland. He was asked to start a new and innovative approach to stop child abuse and to start intervention programs through a grant. He became the executive director of the BRI in 1980 and has continued in this capacity for the past 30-plus years.
Its mission is, “To provide services to children and families that prevent child abuse and family violence.”
More than 7,000 cases have been worked on, intervening in almost 30,000 potential child abuse cases and serving more than 12,000 treatment clients since the organization was founded.
“(Stopping child abuse is) a cause for me ... I’ve dedicated my life to preventing child abuse and violence in the home,” he said.
BRI helps parents and children — entire families — learn how to cope and also provides them with stress training, such as the Parent Stress Training program, or P.S.T. This program through the B.R.I. teaches nonviolent parenting techniques and stress management services, as well as providing parents information about Internet safety for their children. Parenting classes also are being taught in the high schools and similar classes are being planned for the middle schools. The Lifetime Anger Management Plan, or L.A.M.P., helps aggressive teenagers learn to control their aggression without resorting to violence.
The organization also provided counseling after the April 27 storm aftermath.
There are four types of abuse, Biller told the Sunrise Rotarians in attendance — sexual, over-discipline, sadistic and negligence. Over-discipline is the most common. It occurs when parents lose their tempers and then wind up disciplining their child too severely in the heat of that anger but then regretting what they did. That’s when Biller tries to step in and teach parents how to discipline without corporal punishment.
But the BRI tries to help teach students how to deal appropriately with their anger as well, helping to reduce the cycle of abuse at this point also.
Alcohol and substance abuse is a significant component in causing child abuse, especially with the use of methamphetamine on the rise. But the way such cases are handled has changed, to the benefit of the children. Instead of removing a child from a home with these abusers, the abuser is now removed from the home instead.
“Melisha Gibson was a tragedy,” Biller said. “But it has helped stop the cycle of child abuse.” After receiving a major “black eye” across the nation back in 1976 after the Melisha Gibson tragedy became public, Bradley and Polk counties now have the lowest per capita abuse rate in Southeast Tennessee.
Diversity of funding and consistent interns are essential to the BRI programs. For more information and/or to contact the BRI, call 423-479-1590. The organization is located in the Cleveland Professional Bldg. located at 2292 Chambliss Ave., N.W., in Suite C-1.
In other business:
— Cheryl Dunson, the local Sunrise Rotary’s secretary-at-arms, and her mom, Barbara Green, were awarded Dunson’s eighth Paul Harris Fellow award by club president Mark Rodgers in honor of Dunson’s dad and Green’s deceased husband, Peter L. Green, at the recent Sunrise Rotary meeting.
The Paul Harris Fellow is not given because of monetary donations but rather for “loyalty, devotion and caring,” Rodgers told Dunson and Green. “It’s the heart, not the money.”
Green passed away in Petersburg, Fla., at the age of 73 on Jan. 13.