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

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.