When Sharlee Jeter and her brother, former New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, were growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, bullying happened, but she says that may have meant being embarrassed in front of a room full of people. With smartphones and social media, when kids are humiliated or harassed today, it may be in a public online platform where the whole world can see. According to 2014 research by the iSafe Foundation, at least 52% of teens have been bullied online, and 35% of children have been threatened while surfing the web.
That’s part of the reason why Sharlee, who has been president of the family’s Turn 2 Foundation since 2010, was so enthusiastic about partnering with STOPit, a platform designed to help end cyberbullying. One of the foundation’s hallmark programs is Jeter’s Leaders, a four-year youth leadership and social change program in New York City and western Michigan, where the Jeters grew up. Sharlee said she’s been hearing for the past eight or so years from participants that cyberbullying is a major problem they see among their peers.
A mutual friend told her about STOPit, and she saw immediately that it would give some of the foundation’s program participants a tool they could use to combat online harassment when they saw or experienced it. The foundation is integrating STOPit into its youth programs, and Derek Jeter is personally investing an undisclosed amount in the company.
The platform was launched in 2014 by founder Todd Schobel. After he heard about teenager Amanda Todd’s 2012 suicide, which was precipitated by an online predator, he “knew he had to do something,” he says. He immediately began working on the app.
STOPit can be downloaded onto Android or iOS devices, giving users the ability report incidents of bullying with a click of a button. Doing so sends a report to DOCUMENTit, the app’s cloud-based document management system, which notifies school administrators in real time. More than 100 U.S. schools currently use the platform, and STOPit recently expanded internationally into Canada, Ireland, Italy, and South Africa. Even in communities where schools don’t have jurisdiction to police cyberbullying, the platform is a powerful deterrent and makes administrators aware of potential problems happening online, Schobel says.
The idea resonated with Sharlee because she knew her students were dealing with cyberbullying in their communities. This would give them one more tool to use, she says.
Sharlee has been an integral part of growing the family foundation, “working in every position in the organization,” she says. Since 1996, the Turn 2 Foundation has awarded more than $20 million to create and support programs and activities that motivate young people to turn away from drugs and alcohol and adopt healthy lifestyles, while promoting and rewarding academic excellence, leadership development, and positive behavior.
But she didn’t get handed the reins without earning them. She started as an unpaid intern while she was in college. Even as she worked alongside family members, including her famous brother, Sharlee says she knew she was carving out her own niche and name. She dug in and did research about fundraising and designing programs, seeking out others and asking questions to find out what she didn’t know. Her first paid job with the foundation was as a program coordinator. It wasn’t until 2010–14 years after the foundation’s launch–that she took over the helm and “fired my dad,” she jokes. Her father, S. Charles Jeter, previously ran the foundation since starting it with Derek during the shortstop’s rookie year in 1996.
Since that time, the foundation has transitioned from a grant-giving organization to a thriving organization with its own programs. Derek has been very involved with the foundation from its inception, and has made it part of his professional life, she says.
“Every single thing he did–every marketing deal, every opportunity that came while he was playing baseball–had something carved out that supported the foundation. Now, he’s doing the same thing with his business relationships,” he says. In addition to new partnership and funding opportunities, he also helps land information and networking days and internships for students in the foundation’s programs.
In recent years, Sharlee and her team have “right-sized” the organization, focusing primarily on Jeter’s Leaders, from which nearly 200 young men and women have graduated, and Turn 2 Us, which promotes healthy lifestyles among elementary school children, especially in the Washington Heights section of Queens, New York.
Recent Jeter’s Leaders impact analysis found that the program benefits all participants in some way, and that 90% move on to post-secondary education immediately after high school. About three-quarters were found to develop greater resilience and motivation to take action, and most are more involved than the average person in community work. The foundation employs three program alumni. With the focus on Jeter’s Leaders, she sees the opportunity for expansive growth into various markets, possibly partnering with other athletes, entertainers, or leaders to continue sharing the impact the program has, including its relationship with STOPit.
“We see [Jeter’s Leaders alumni] go out into the community, and they’re motivated to make a difference. They turn to careers where they can do good. They’re starting their own foundations. We see how the program influences them every day,” she says.