Faces of 2013: Huntley’s Camille Paddock daring to stop bullying
By Jeanie Mayer For Sun-Times Media December 30, 2013 2:56PM
Camille Paddock donning her Dare to be Different T-shirt. | Submitted
Updated: February 1, 2014 6:05AM
This is another in a series of stories on people and events that shaped our local communities in 2013.
HUNTLEY — Today she is Miss Teen McHenry County International, a model, a cheerleader and a public speaker. She also has appeared on the “Today Show” and is the driving force behind a nonprofit foundation.
But just a few years ago, Camille Paddock was the target of bullies, victimized to the point of nearly taking her own life when she was in seventh grade.
Known as Cam, Paddock was a straight-A student in school and very popular as a fourth-grader when she was diagnosed with alopecia areata, an auto-immune disease that causes sufferers to lose their hair and compromises their immune systems. It was on the heels of this diagnosis that her popular friends turned on her and began a campaign of bullying so fierce that the ringleaders recruited others to follow her around at football games shouting horrible names.
The bullies used Facebook to exhort Paddock to kill herself.
For years, repeated visits by her mother, Melissa Paddock, to school authorities yielded ineffective results. Finally, it was a three-page letter written by Cam to the superintendent of schools and his subsequent zero-tolerance policy — that would result in expulsion if any of the bullies acted out again — that brought some relief to Cam.
The overt bullying stopped, but the stares, whispers and dirty looks continued.
As a way of gaining perspective and venting her frustration, Paddock began to use her Facebook page as a tool to tell her story. She wanted to reach other kids who were suffering from bullying and give them a forum to vent.
In September 2012, Paddock launched her Dare to be Different Facebook page that now has more than 3,000 followers. Soon, cheer gyms, families and schools were seeking her out, asking her to speak at their events.
Her message is simple.
“I want those of you who are being bullied to take your power back,” Paddock said in a speech at Carmel High School in Mundelein in October. “I want those of you who just stand by and watch bullying happen to find your voice and stand up and say something. I want bullies to realize that words can kill and I want all of you to learn the power of kindness and forgiveness.”
One year after launching her page, Paddock was publicly recognized for her work by the village of Huntley during Anti-bully Awareness Month.
Her refrain of Dare to be Different may at first seem like a call to those with disabilities to embrace their differences and stand strong, and that is true. But at its heart, Paddock’s message also is to friends and onlookers who witness bullying and silently do nothing.
She challenges them to stand up and be different, be the voice for the person who’s not strong enough.
Paddock’s outreach has had a positive effect all over the country.
“Some of the girls I have spoken to were bullies and are not anymore,” she said. “Some of them thought about taking a bunch of pills so they would never wake up again and they didn’t do it because I looked at them and said, ‘I have been there. I have been through it. I wanted to die, too, but I am so glad I didn’t (kill myself) so I could be here to help you.’ ”
The 15-year-old has formed a nonprofit (501(c)3 pending) organization called Cam’s Dare to be Different, with the goal of creating a Cam’s Dare to be Different support group for kids by kids in every school in the country.
Paddock’s upcoming speaking engagements include Carthage College and the Children’s Alopecia Project of Illinois. Her website can be found at www.CamsDTBD.org, and her Facebook page is at www.facebook.com/camsDTBD.