Bully Busters program tackles a serious problem

Post date: Feb 23, 2020 7:31:33 AM


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.