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Check out the articles below to see what we're about and the impact we've made on our community. 
If you have questions about our efforts reach out to our director Debbie Kievits at dkievits@norwichbullybusters.com

Norwich Summer Jam youth help beautify Heritage Trail

posted Feb 22, 2020, 11:51 PM by Katherine Rose


By Justin Risley, For The Bulletin
Posted Jul 17, 2019 at 5:53 PM
Updated Jul 17, 2019 at 7:54 PM

Local youths of the summer program, Summer Jam, participated in a riverfront trash cleanup of Heritage Trail Wednesday afternoon.

The program, co-sponsored by Bully Busters and Norwich Youth and Family Services, is a six-week enrichment program that provides local students — middle school and below — with opportunities to partake in community service and other engagement activities. The event began with students handing out flowers as they walked to Brown Memorial Park from their meeting place at UC Church, which is not affiliated with the program, across from City Hall. They arrived at the riverfront equipped with gloves, buckets, trash pickers, and a red wagon, eager to begin the trash clean-up which would conclude at Uncas Leap. This year’s Summer Jam began July 1 and occurs Monday through Thursday. A key part of the program is to complete one to two small service projects every week.

“Kids get what they need to learn for themselves from doing the activities and community service,” said Theresse Weigand-Watkinson, one of the program staff who has participated in Bully Busters since age six. Program Director Peter Grant said Summer Jam provides an opportunity for social and emotional learning to student participants. Grant said past projects have included the children making cards for cancer patients and visiting residents at Sheltering Arms in Norwich. Grant has been a part of Summer Jam for five years and works for Norwich Youth and Family Services. He said this was the first trash clean-up the summer program has completed since he’d been around.

Currently in his second year at Summer Jam, Melton Eliassaint, 10, was one of several kids with a bucket and trash picker in hand. “This has been inspirational because I never felt like I was helping the community before coming here,” said Eliassaint. “I’ll be coming back next year.”

Steve Starke, a former Summer Jam staff member who volunteers at the program’s service projects was one of the guides for the event. “These kids are awesome,” said Starke. “This has all been successful in my eyes.” Starke said some of the Summer Jam kids attend the art lessons he teaches at the Gallery at the Wauregan on Main Street. Starke said he plans to create his own service event to repaint the West Main Street underpass along the Heritage Trail, “to make it look more acceptable.” “We are going to fix this,” Starke said as the kids walked passed the vandalized underpass.

Summer Jam staff member Wes Murphy, in his first year at Summer Jam, said the program guides the students in the right direction and gets them to try new things. “It’s opening doors that they can then walk through,” said Murphy.

WHPX-TV For the Record with Shawn Murphy

posted Feb 22, 2020, 11:44 PM by Katherine Rose   [ updated Feb 22, 2020, 11:45 PM ]

Posted September 27, 2016
Norwich Bully Busters Director speaks with Shawn Murphy of For the Record

‘Buddy Benches’ making schools friendlier

posted Feb 22, 2020, 11:35 PM by Katherine Rose   [ updated Feb 22, 2020, 11:46 PM ]

by: Kent Pierce
Posted: Apr 9, 2018 / 12:58 PM EDT / Updated: Apr 9, 2018 / 12:58 PM EDT

Kids in eastern Connecticut are getting some help making school a friendlier place. Five more “Buddy Benches” are now in schools and other facilities as of Monday morning. So if you are having a bad day, or need a friend, then have a seat.

“They’re for to help kids to include others, like to get somebody to stop bullying,” explained Stanton School 4th grader Marcus Cracia.
John B. Stanton Elementary School in Norwich just got a third one of the Buddy Benches.

“It’s about promoting kindness, it’s about introducing and making friends,” said “Bully Busters” organizer Debbie Kievits. “If the child is having a rough day, they can sit on that bench and welcome someone and have a kind word.”
Originally they were called “Bully Buster Benches,” but organizer Debbie Kievits says “Buddy Benches” is more accurate for what they’re trying to do. Local groups and businesses pay for them.

The ones delivered today were donated by Eastern Savings bank, and they’re not just going in schools, but also health care facilities like United Community and Family Services.
“Just bringing the benches in this morning to this area, the kids eyes light up,” said UCFS’s Pam Kinder. “They love the color, they love the uniqueness of them.”

Each is unique, painted in a different style with different messages.
“When you are feeling down, you can look and you can be like, ‘Stanton Sharks make good friends,’ or ‘Make new friends,’ and you can embrace and follow those and you can prevent bullies,” said Stanton 4th Grader Makayla Hughes, reading some of the phrases painted on the benches.

Best of all, it seems to be working.
“I was stopped the other day in the supermarket and they said, ‘Yeah, my son sits on that bench and met someone and got along with someone,’ and that’s the feedback we wanted,” Kievits said.
Kievits said that, this month, they will deliver their 300th bench to places where kids hang out in the greater Norwich area.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Bully Busters program tackles a serious problem

posted Feb 22, 2020, 11:31 PM by Katherine Rose

Members of the Bully Busters program, founded by Debbie Kievits, center, of Norwich, meet at the Salvation Army in Norwich on Thursday.

Published April 21. 2013 12:01AM 
By Claire Bessette Day Staff Writer

Norwich - After a morning of crafts, games and team-building, several youths sat at a table at the Bully Busters' Main Street clubhouse Thursday afternoon awaiting the arrival of lunch.

Program coordinator Debbie Kievits sat with them during this session of the Bully Busters' April vacation camp at the Salvation Army building.

"You guys have a couple more days and then it's back to school," she started as part of a discussion on their roles to cut down on bullying in their schools. She asked if Facebook had become the bullying avenue during vacation. Mixed responses. She asked if bullying stopped during vacations. No.

"Do boys bully more than girls?" Again, mixed responses.

"Girls do it more, but they do it on the low," Shelona Dudley, 14, a freshman at Norwich Free Academy and three-year member of the Bully Busters group. "Boys just shout at each other."

The Anti-Bullying Coalition, better known as the Bully Busters, started 10 years ago in response to serious incidents, including an attack on a Kelly Middle School student that left her seriously injured.

With Kievits as the volunteer coordinator, the group has obtained small grants, in-kind donations and support from local businesses and the city. Norwich Youth and Family Services has worked in tandem with Bully Busters for years, Kievits said. St. Vincent de Paul Place soup kitchen provided the lunches during the vacation camp.

Bully Busters and the Norwich NAACP branch's Youth Council work together to promote voter participation and candidate debates with local City Council, school board and legislative candidates.

Kievits took notes Thursday and kept peppering the kids with questions. When they see bullying, do they step up? How do they define bullying? When does teasing cross the line and become hurtful? Can they turn to a trusted friend for help?

Amanda Gregg, who graduated from NFA last June, said she was bullied severely as a shy ninth-grader with stuttered speech. She always turned to her best friends and her guidance counselor for support. Others agreed that school guidance counselors are "cool," as is Kelly Middle School Resource Officer Anthony Gomes.

Kievits was concerned when students in unison said classroom teachers are no help and principals only sometimes help. The kids worry that "snitching" can make the bullying worse. Kievits was surprised to learn students had never heard of the written forms to make anonymous complaints, required by a new state law the Greater Norwich Anti-Bullying Coalition helped pass last year.

"I'm going to follow up on that," Kievits promised them.

Bully Busters will celebrate the group's 10th anniversary May 2 with a dinner and awards presentation at the Rose City Senior Center. The group will honor several "community partners" for supporting the organization.

Brett Bernardini, founder and artistic director at the Spirit of Broadway Theater, an award recipient, will be the guest speaker. Other honorees will be Laura Binder, social studies teacher at NFA; Thomas Jones, graphics arts teacher at Norwich Regional Technical School; Dr. Ramidra Walia at United Community and Family Services; Ilia Chavez, a parent; and Steve Perrilli from The Coca-Cola Co.

Students from Norwich Tech will cook the dinner.

On May 3, the Bully Busters will participate in the annual World Youth Day celebration, also in its 10th year, with an outdoor festival on the parking deck outside Norwich City Hall.


Bully Busters spearhead 'buddy bench' project

posted Feb 22, 2020, 10:51 PM by Katherine Rose

Reminder News
July 25, 2014
A new bright spot will appear in elementary schools throughout the Norwich area this fall, thanks to Bully Busters of Norwich. The youth organization is spearheading a project to build, paint and install "buddy benches" in area schools, as a safe haven for kids who need a little friendship and encouragement during the school day.
"The goals is having two benches per school," said Debbie Kievets, director of Bully Busters. "We're doing the greater Norwich area, all the sending schools" for Norwich Free Academy. Requests for the benches are coming from far afield for schools in Canterbury, Sprague and Voluntown, among others, she said.
Kievets said she envisions students using the benches as a way to reach out wordlessly for support when social situations at school get rough and "to promote simple acts of kindness." When a child sits on the bench, a classmate or friend can join them as a gesture of friendship and solidarity. The project, she said, will be worth it "if we get one kid to sit on these benches for five seconds and know that everything is going to be okay."
So far, a total of 37 benches have been built and painted with assistance from a wide range of community agencies and local artist volunteers, Kievets said. "A lot of groups are using them as team-building exercises. One group took one on a company picnic and painted it together," she said. "The exciting part of it is how many different artists have painted a bench. No two are going to be alike, just like kids. They're all different, unique and beautiful."
The kids and teen volunteers at Bully Busters' Summer Jam recreation program pitched in last week for the project, working with members of Rotary Community Corps to construct four benches at the program's meeting place at the Norwich Salvation Army. Two benches were destined for other painters; the remaining pair were painted that afternoon by the Summer Jam participants, with help from Tiki Herrick, a life skills educator from Access Agency who's also an artist.
Herrick spent some time guiding the group in planning how the benches would be painted. "I gave them blank benches on a piece of paper," she said. "We have a limited amount of paint, so we had to stretch things." One bench design depicted a "peace train," with a series of train cars and a message in the train's puff of smoke: "above all be kind". The other bench was initially intended to incorporate a cloud design, but some errant smudges turned the motif into a solid sky-blue.
"We couldn't be happier to be involved in this program," said Dino Tudisca, president of the Rotary Community Corps' Norwich branch. He said that the RCC provided the supplies, cut the lumber and helped the kids construct the benches. Organizers hope to complete 60 indoor benches and as many as 40 additional benches for outdoor settings, he said.
Groups or individuals who wish to either sponsor or paint a Buddy Bench are welcome to contact the Kievets at Norwich Bully Busters at dasunflower@hotmail.com. Online donations can be made at http://www.gofundme.org/8mzt88#.

Channel 3 goes to Norwich - 20 Towns in Twenty Days

posted Feb 22, 2020, 9:35 PM by Katherine Rose   [ updated Feb 22, 2020, 9:35 PM ]

May 19, 2016 By Mark Zinni and Kaitlyn Naples On Thursday, Channel 3 traveled to Norwich for the next installment of 20 Towns in Twenty Days. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, one out of every four students are bullied at school. For many years, a Norwich-based organization has been working to stop bullies. Channel 3 met with the volunteers behind Bully Busters on Thursday, donating $1,000 to their efforts. They also received a $500 gift card from PC Richard and Son. For 14 years, the Bully Busters have been fighting back against bullying with programs in local schools, churches and community centers. "Well, our message is about promoting kindness. We're trying to teach kids that kindness is magical and getting kids to understand that it's okay to be kind - and if we can spread that word on a daily basis, 24-7, that's our goal,” said Debbie Kievits, of Norwich Bully Busters. The organization also has a painting program where children and volunteers paint positive messages on benches and put them in schools. The Bully Busters don’t want any child afraid to go to school, or to take their life because of bullying. Read more: http://www.wfsb.com/story/32019188/channel-3-goes-to-norwich#ixzz4BKf2Xum8 Click the link above to see the video!

Rose city resident: Debbie Kievits, Founder of Norwich-based Bully Busters

posted Feb 22, 2020, 9:28 PM by Katherine Rose   [ updated Feb 22, 2020, 11:33 PM ]


From the Norwich Magazine, June 2016 Edition
Written by Zack Lamothe

Debbie Kievits lives by the motto, “Kindness is magical.” Bully Busters, the youth faction of the Greater Norwich Anti-Bullying Coalition, has promoted awareness of bullying in the schools and in the community for 14 years. After being touched personally by the effects of bullying, Kievits, with a group of fellow parents and children, decided that there needed to be more cognizance of the topic of bullying. Through projects such as the Bully Buster Buddy Benches, programs in local schools, and involvement in numerous community events, Kievits and the Bully Busters have made a tremendous impact on Norwich.

Q: How did you become involved in Bully Busters?
Kievits: About 14 or 15 years ago my son and a number of local students were dealing ...with issues around bullying. There was one major incident that happened at Kelly Middle School. There was a student that was injured pretty good from being bullied. Those were the incidents that made us come together. We saw this and a group of us parents got around a kitchen table and said, ‘What can we do to make a change and to make more awareness over what is happening?’ Just about 14 years later, here we are. It started with a group of parents, students, local agencies, the school system and organizations, and it all came together.
Q: What is the role of Bully Busters in the community?
Kievits: Our goal is to keep making awareness of bullying. It is a constant battle, a constant change. We serve 2-year-olds up to adults. We want to make people aware that it is OK to be kind. Our motto is ‘Kindness is magical’ and also that words hurt too. That is our mission: to make people constantly aware. 
Q: How have you adapted to cyber bullying?
Kievits: By going to trainings. We thought it was just through computers, but at one of the trainings we were taught that it was also on the video games, on the phones, on anything that is connected to the Internet. Many parents think that if they take away the computer, they are all set. Kids think they are invisible, and parents who are paying the Internet bill need to know what their kid has been doing. We tell kids that it is like a tattoo, what they are doing on there never goes away. Everybody can see it no matter what. It is even harder for the school system because they can control what happens there, but not when the student goes home. Certain toys even have Internet connectivity. When we do our program IMUS on Saturdays, we let the kids know that even if they forward an inappropriate email from someone else, they still are at fault. Everybody that you send that to can be held accountable. It’s serious because they could be arrested, charged with a felony, which could be with them for a lifetime. Kids think it’s just silly and don’t see the consequences of their actions. A parent can even lose a job over a child doing something on a work computer. A police officer who did a training for us years ago said, “If you let your children go on the Internet without checking on them, it is like allowing them to hang out at a bar.”
​Q: How could someone become involved in Bully Busters?
Kievits: They contact us. If they want to work in the schools, a back- ground check is needed. We have had so many different volunteers over the years. For instance we have one guy who gets us computers when we need them. We have one girl who runs our IMUS program who was with us in Bully Busters about 10 years ago out of Norwich Tech and has now come back to start a program. We could not do it without our volunteers.
Q: Could you speak to the fire hydrant and Buddy-Bench project?
Kievits: Last year the Greeneville area through the Greeneville Revitalization Zone did a project painting area fire hydrants. We painted two: one by St. Mary’s Church and one by the school. We put a message about peace and kindness on it. We actually won a trophy for it.
The Buddy Benches have been one of our most rewarding projects. We got this idea from a young man from York, Pa. He had this idea about getting benches out on the playground as a spot to meet new friends. Someone let me know about his project and I thought it would be pretty cool to start that out here. I was trying to think of ideas to get the benches so I put it out there. One of our members of Bully Busters is in the Rotary Community Corps of Norwich. He saw what we were trying to do and offered to build them. Once we got those, I thought it would be cool to paint them. I called up my artist friends. The artists’ products were like works of art. They jumped on board right away. Since then we’ve had local organizations paint them. We had a local youth group take the bench on a camping trip and they painted it while they were camping. They were just phenomenal. My goal was to get a couple of benches, but we are at 80 benches in the greater Norwich schools. Next week we are going to be doing a project with the Isaac School down in New London. They will be painting nine of them and they will then be brought into the New London schools. Faith Wibberley, who painted the mural on Chestnut Street, painted some of them. They are just amazing, they are works of art. We had an artist come down from Boston to paint one. They had a big show here (at the United Congregational Church) in spring 2015 of them. The feedback we get from the students and the parents is wonderful. They can’t wait to sit on the benches. Teachers see that the kids trend to the benches. They all see it as a way to promote kindness. The teachers even sit on them for a few peaceful moments. The greater Norwich area community has really stepped up. The Rotary Corps and Overhead Door from Preston started helping us build the benches. The benches have been painted by school children, artists, parents, com- munity members, all of whom clearly knew what message they wanted to send.

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