SUMMIT, NJ - Inspired by Summit-based nonprofit 'Don't Hide It, Flaunt It', two Hilltop City parents initiated a project with Jefferson Elementary School 4th and 5th graders designed to promote positive self-image and celebrate the students' unique qualities.

‘The Best Part of Me’ is a photo exhibit now on display at the Summit Free Public Library. The wall serving as a visual incarnation of 'Don't Hide It, Flaunt It' founder -- and also Summit resident -- Meg Zucker's credo of "The things that make me different make me, me."

The Jefferson program grew out of a Girl Scout project that parent Katie Hellings launched with her local Girl Scout troop -- inspired by ‘Don’t Hide it, Flaunt it’ as well as the book, "The Best Part of Me" by Wendy Ewald. Hellings approached Donna Fisk, also parent of a Girl Scout in Hellings troop, to discuss her idea and see if there might be interest in working together to roll out a similar project with Jefferson Elementary School’s 4th and 5th grade classes.

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Fisk was all-in and, after they got the approval from the school's principal and 4th and 5th grade teachers, Hellings went into the classrooms to speak to the children about the project’s message and goals. Fisk then photographed each child’s favorite body part -- the physical characteristic that each child felt made him or her unique -- with the overarching goal of promoting positive self-image. The children were then asked to write about their favorite body part.

The photographs and captions were then displayed at the school for parents, teachers, and most importantly, all the students to see and learn the lessons of tolerance, acceptance, and celebrating what makes each student unique. Fisk said, “The finished project was very powerful for the kids as well as the adults who viewed it.  It is a great reminder to always celebrate the things that make us unique. As a social worker and a photographer, this really was moving for me.”

A selection of photographs from the project is now on display in the Children’s Room at the Summit Free Public Library.  The public is welcome to come to view the exhibit and share the project's message with their own children, grandchildren, and other family members. The project will be on display at the library through the end of October.

'Don’t Hide it, Flaunt It' (DHIFI) Founder and President Meg Zucker was born with ectrodactyly, a condition leaving her with shortened forearms, one finger on each hand and one toe on each foot. Two of her three children share her condition. Meg created DHIFI after her oldest son was bullied on the playground by a group of 4th graders because of his difference. The organization's mission is to advance acceptance, understanding, tolerance and mutual respect for a person's blatant or invisible difference.

The nonprofit recently announced the onset of its fourth annual 'Kids Flaunt Contest' in collaboration with Scholastic. Now in its fourth year, the 'Kids Flaunt Contest'  is available to 4th grade classrooms in all public and private schools nationwide. The 'Kids Flaunt Contest' is aimed at empowering kids who feel different to share their personal stories while inviting their classmates to recognize what makes them unique. The program -- specifically designed for 4th graders’ social-emotional development -- combats intolerance and builds empathy.

After an engaging classroom activity where students identify and explore their differences together, teachers guide them in expressing these ideas through essays, artwork, and / or poetry. The 2018 initiative marks the first year that the art and poetry components are available.

In describing the success of the 'Kids Flaunt Contest', Zucker notes: “Over the years we have received thousands of essays from kids about their visible and invisible differences. Examples have included being short, wearing glasses, having red hair or a birthmark. Others have written about having anxiety, being dyslexic, having allergies or being adopted. We are extremely excited to open this year’s contest to visual art and poetry, which not only harnesses children’s creativity, but also is more inclusive of a variety of learning and communication styles.”

The 2017 contest winner was 9-year-old Roman Hathaway from Indiana, for his powerfully written and courageous account of living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Tourette Syndrome.

Roman's mother, Jennifer Hathaway, describes his experience with the 'Kids Flaunt Conest' as  transformative. “Roman’s apprehension to share his challenges with his classmates had been based on fear that setting himself up as ‘different’ would be more embarrassing than beneficial. But his fear visibly changed to pride as he was writing. Because the 'Kids Flaunt Contest' challenged Roman to share his story, he found a new sense of confidence with his friends, and the burden of internalizing his feelings had been lifted.”

Roman’s essay is available to readers online at donthideitflauntit.com.

Prior winners include Callia Kanaaneh of California (2015) for her story about how a sibling’s difference of autism sets her family apart, and Rayyan Sayeed of Illinois (2016), who bravely shared his experience being bullied because of his Muslim faith.

To learn how to enter the contest and for complete rules, visit: scholastic.com/flauntit. Educators must submit entries on behalf of student entrants. One Grand Prize winner will be selected and three First Prize winners will receive prizing, plus classroom books and magazines for each contest winner’s teacher. The deadline for the contest is November 21, 2018. NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Void where prohibited.

Kids Flaunt is funded by the RBC Capital Markets and Morgan Stanley, support that makes the programming available to hundreds of thousands of students throughout the country. In its first three years, the program reached an estimated 190,000 participants.

'Don't Hide It, Flaunt It' also offers community outreach and speaking engagements, corporate diversity programs, and other partnership opportunities. For more information on Kids Flaunt and other programs, visit donthideitflauntit.com.