Author sisters a dynamic duo
Teens turn to writing to help empower other girls
Leanne Prendergast was teased and bullied at school.
So was her older sister, Laurece.
“I didn’t want to go to school,” says Leanne, a grade 9 student at Woodbridge College. “I wanted to stay at home. I didn’t want to see anyone. I didn’t want to get made fun of anymore.
“I felt like kind of hiding.”
Bullying trapped the sisters in a sort of prison they felt hopeless to escape, she says. That is until they found their way out: using words to empower rather than bully.
Leanne and Laurece are the authors of Getting to Know Me, a book chronicling their experiences with bullying and the lessons they learned because of them.
“Basically it’s just a self-help book for girls, how to become positive, how to deal with self-esteem issues, bullying,” says Laurece, a grade 12 student at Woodbridge College. “We both had our own experiences with violence or girl-on-girl teasing so we decided to, instead of just sit back and just be depressed about it, make a difference.”
And make a difference they have. On the heels of the book being published early this year, the sisters have also become motivational speakers, speaking to both girls and boys about overcoming bullying by elevating self-esteem.
Last week, Leanne and Laurece were presented with the Louise Russo Youth Award at the WAVE Empowering Youth 2009 event in Woodbridge in recognition for all they’ve done.
They credit Woodbridge College vice-principal Paolo Burzese with pushing them to enter their names for consideration.
“I was ecstatic,” Burzese says. “I know they had worked very hard on writing the book down.
“I know that they really feel that they’ve triumphed, from looking at school in a very negative way to looking at school in a positive way.”
That change in the sisters’ attitudes came through the tough but cathartic process of writing Getting to Know Me, Leanne says.
“I learned that I’m not the only person going through it,” she says. “There are so many other girls out there that I may think look so perfect and that their life is going really well, but yet they’re going through the same thing as me, that they have self-esteem issues.
“They feel insecure about their nose, their lips, their forehead, their hair, their skin colour, everything.”
That realization is the point around which the two sisters crafted the core of their message.
“Love yourself,” Leanne says. “It takes up so much energy to sit back and complain of everything you don’t have. We spend too much time doing that when we aren’t grateful for what we do have.”
She remembers that’s what she did. Looking at the negatives made it hard for her to cherish her positives.
“I was complaining, ‘Oh, look at my eyes, they look different from everyone else’s’, Leanne says. “There was another girl out there that couldn’t see and she was grateful that she was alive, that she could communicate with people.
“So I hope that the message to young people will be, ‘Accept yourselves’.”
With one book published and available through www.Xlibris.com and www.Amazon.ca, the Prendergast sisters have started work on their second. So You Want a Boyfriend, the new book’s working title, will feature other people’s stories and touch on tough topics like domestic violence, Leanne says.
The future holds special things for Leanne and Laurece, Burzese says.
“They really are a couple of young women that when they see a challenge, they try to find a way to overcome it and they’re resilient,” he says. “I think they’re going to be very good leaders in our community.”
Not that long ago, Leanne’s low self-esteem might have kept her from agreeing. But not now. She agreed, her confidence evident.
“I believe we’re going to go really far,” she says. “Very, very far.”
Vaughan Today In print: May 22, 2009, page 2 Online: May 24, 2009 [link]