Brenda Zofrea, a 1987 alumna of the UIU-Waterloo Center, traded in her corporate career to make a difference in the lives of children and families across the nation.
As the founder and director of LET’S B SAFE, Brenda has presented at workshops and seminars for parents, grandparents, foster parents, teen parents, teachers and children for over 15 years. Her book, LET’S B SAFE, and her BE SAFE BEES are provided free to thousands of children as community partnerships work together to help protect and educate children. She is also the child safety editor for GRAND Magazine, helping 7.8 million grandparents raising grandchildren in the U.S.
Here, Zofrea gets candid about her book and what led to change her trajectory.
Q: Why did you decide to write LET’S B SAFE?
A: Twenty-plus years ago, I was looking for information to teach my own son that would help keep him safe, especially when he wasn’t with me. As a mother, you want to know that your child knows how to respond in a safe manner if they are approached by someone while out riding their bikes, at sleepovers, at amusement parks, shopping malls, libraries, etc. I then taught my son some safety rules, and after being approached by a stranger asking him for directions (and he knew not to help them), I saw first-hand how important this part of parenting was. I also saw how effective prevention education is, and how teaching kids the right rules, in the right way, can be both empowering and non-fearful.
Coincidentally, years before having my son, I was single and working in Iowa as a sales representative for American Cyanamid Company. John Gosch was a work colleague of mine and while we were touring test plots and making sales calls, he told me about his missing son (Johnny Gosch – who is still missing). That day had a huge impact on my life. I remember thinking, “How does a parent go on, day after day, not knowing what happened to their child?” After 19-plus years in the corporate world, when I had the chance to change directions career-wise, I knew that I wanted to share what I knew about helping to keep kids safe with other parents, teachers, grandparents, etc. It has since become my life’s mission and passion.
Q: Describe your writing process at the time.
A: I’d had the idea of a book rolling around in my head for several years, but it wasn’t until a chance of a lifetime (I was invited to be a guest on Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club Show) happened, that I got serious about writing LET’S B SAFE. When you’re excited and passionate, and you feel you can make a difference, then writing about it is a breeze (sort of). At first I was going to write a book to help keep teenage girls safe from abduction and murder, but my research showed that although it’s a terrible crime, one that usually makes headlines, it is also something that happens far less frequently than the sexual abuse of children. That’s when I decided to create a resource for parents and teachers that could be read for storytime, bedtime…anytime.
I knew that I wanted my book to have realistic illustrations so that children with learning disabilities (as well as very young children) would be able to learn visually, as well as with the words, but I have very little artistic ability. My initial attempts at self-illustrating were disastrous. The bumblebee character, which I’m quite proud of, is the only thing I illustrated. I went to my local college in my hometown of Wayne, NJ, and asked if they could recommend any art students who might want to work with me on my book. I was very lucky to be introduced to Andrea Geller who generously agreed to work with me. Andrea had young children at the time and she connected to my mission and message.
Q: How did you go about getting published?
A: I tried to get published the traditional way by sending query letters to targeted publishers and agents. I did land a publishing contract but I didn’t feel the royalties and other constraints on my work were fair. Ironically, the other woman who was also chosen to be on the Oprah Winfrey Show that day was an executive with one of the largest book distributors in the world. When I called her for advice, she suggested that I self-publish my book, which is what I did.
Q: What main points about child safety do you cover in the book?
A: Some of the most commonly used lines and lures used by sexual predators on children are covered in the book. The book also has multi-cultural illustrations to complement the text’s important message, a parent/teacher review guide and a certificate of achievement for the child. The book is written in non-fearful, memory-enhancing rhyme and is only available online. You can start teaching this message with my book with children as young as 3 years old through fifth grade. Truthfully, if a teenager wasn’t taught these rules when they were growing up, then they need the books’ message too.
Q: How has the LET’S B SAFE program expanded over the years?
A: The program has expanded to now be the foundation of a school district’s child safety and literacy initiative, reaching thousands of first graders each year. Teenagers are contacting me and using Let’s B Safe as a fun new way to earn community service hours and give back to their communities. In one case, a Girl Scout earned her Gold Award by working with the LET’S B SAFE program. CASA.org volunteers have read my book to children in foster care. The program has been provided to teen parents who love the book’s easy-to-teach message especially since teen moms are still kids themselves. It’s also expanded to incarcerated mothers of young children and to grandparents raising grandchildren. The bumblebee character from the book is now a trademarked fingerpuppet (psychological tool to help kids disclose). I’ve joined the team at GRAND Magazine as their child safety editor. I’m also working with school resource officers statewide (in Florida).My program now also includes ‘lunch and learn’ workshops for corporations and teacher in-service training.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: So much! I plan to continue working to get laws passed on a national level to eliminate the statute of limitations on the reporting of childhood sexual abuse, to bring this program to military families and to children in foster care so we can help stop the cycle of re-abuse that occurs to children once they enter the foster care system (regardless of what state they are in). I want to reach as many working parents as possible at their work locations so that they can be sure they have done everything possible to help keep their children safe while they are not with them. I’m extremely passionate about helping the millions of grandparents who are now raising their grandchildren and who may not necessarily be prepared for parenting in today’s world. My book has also been instrumental in getting children to disclose sexual abuse, so I’m planning on working more with professionals in the sexual abuse prevention field along with hospitals and shelters.
LET’S B SAFE is only available online via www.letsbsafe.com .