Rebecca Zerbo

• It’s been six years since a bullying incident during band class left Rebecca Zerbo crying in a middle-school bathroom. That night, the Boca Raton resident went home and wrote messages of positivity to keep in her back pocket. Whenever she felt down, she reached for one of the sayings and read the encouraging words. Not only did it boost Zerbo’s morale, it would soon help countless others struggling with bullies, low self-esteem and lack of confidence.

• Today, the senior at Olympic Heights Community School remains an inspiration to people of all ages thanks to Positive Pocket, the nonprofit that she launched at age 13. At its recent Diamond Award luncheon, the Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce honored Zerbo with its Pearl Award for striving to make a difference in the community—and beyond.

• Her organization does that by empowering young adults with a variety of tools, from presentations and activity worksheets to hundreds of Positive Pocket cards, each one with a different inspirational message.

• In addition to youngsters and teens who’ve benefited from the messages—including students who had considered suicide—Zerbo says that one adult woman turned to Positive Pocket to help her escape an abusive relationship and rediscover her self-worth.

• The Positive Pocket experience has opened Zerbo’s eyes to the magnitude of bullying and self-esteem issues. Her public appearances and presentations, she believes, give her a forum to speak on behalf of those going through challenging times. Meanwhile, the feedback she receives motivates her to continue to push her message. “I’m going to keep doing it because I love it,” she says. “The more you learn, the more you can grow—and the bigger impact you can actually make.”

• Zerbo recently was accepted into the University of Central Florida and Tulane University, but she’s yet to decide which school she will attend. She plans to study international relations and international law in the hope of one day working with an organization involved in conflict resolution or that promotes world peace.

• “If I work hard and I work smart, I can be like these people who are changing the world,” says Zerbo, 17.

• To this day, Zerbo still keeps Positive Pocket cards in her back pocket.

• To donate to the nonprofit organization, visit positivepocket.org.

Editor’s note: The National Center for Education Statistics reports that one out of every five students (ages 12 to 18) in the U.S. has experienced an incident of bullying. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, victimized youth are at “increased risk for depression, anxiety, sleep difficulties and poor school adjustment.” For more information, visit cdc.gov/violenceprevention and click on youth violence prevention.

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