At first blush, it appeared to be a typical day for Tony's—the cherished Italian eatery, long a staple among the ladies-who-lunch crowd—with well-heeled Houstonians emerging from Range Rover after Range Rover in the near-endless valet line. It was a Wednesday afternoon in early September, and they were dressed in designer, of course.
But inside, where the 75 fashionable and philanthropic women gathered in the private dining room, another scene began to emerge: By noon, most of them were crying.
This was the second annual Women Who Shape Houston Luncheon, a Crime Stoppers-affiliated afternoon of presentations and dialogue around critical issues of public safety. While last year's eye-opening event addressed the alarmingly high rate of sex trafficking in Houston, last month's focused on youth issues, specifically bullying, mental health, and suicide prevention.
The room was collectively moved to tears after hearing from Maurine Molak, a Texas mom-turned-advocate who lost her 16-year-old son, David, to suicide in early 2016 after relentless cyberbullying. Molak started David's Legacy Foundation to raise awareness about how bullying in the modern age of increasingly prevalent technology impacts kids both in and out of school. Molak and the Foundation have also successfully lobbied the Texas legislature—an ongoing effort—with the 2017 passage of "David's Law," which requires schools to specifically address cyberbullying in their district policies and empowers them to investigate and act on off-campus harassment—the fact that most cyberbullying occurs after-hours via kids' devices and not technically on school property is an oft-cited loophole for districts that decline to take action.
Next, the group heard from the Menninger Clinic's Dr. Jonathan Stevens on the psychology behind bullying—including that of aggressors, who are often bullied themselves—and from Jenna Fondren, who manages the Crime Stoppers Safe School Institute. Both offered strategies to parents—many in the audience were moms themselves—to recognize signs of a crisis and handle difficult topics with their children.
Advocates Natalie Ariz, Maria Morales, and Kara Vidal—part of Leading Women for Public Safety—hosted the luncheon this year, welcoming guests and introducing the panel alongside Crime Stoppers CEO Rania Mankarious, who commended the crowd for leading the charge on public safety initiatives and continuing to foster important dialogue in the community.