NORWICH, Conn. (WTNH) — A Norwich woman who has dedicated her life to fighting bullying in schools is now receiving national recognition for her efforts.
Debbie Kievits was named one of USA Today’s Women of the Year. Kievits founded Norwich Bully Busters 23 years ago after a series of incidents at local schools.
“It’s all about giving kids an opportunity, letting kids know people care for them, and it’s OK, it’s going to get better,” she said.
A middle school girl was injured in one incident, and Kievits’ son was among those who were being bullied.
Since then, Kievits has worked to install “buddy benches” at school and spread the message #kindnessismagical.
In-school and after-school programs try to boost kindness and stomp out bullying.
“We try to stop it, but, yes, there is some bullying,” said Julianna Larivier, a fifth grader.
The buddy benches have been placed in schools, hospitals and libraries. They are decorated by students and other community members.
Leila Gardner, who is in the fifth grade, said the Bully Busters want students to know “that we are there if they are hurt or if they need help with anything.”
A new bench at the entrance to Thomas Mahan Elementary School is the 373th of its kind in the greater Norwich community.
Kievits works with both those who have been bullied, and the bullies themselves, to see what challenges they have.
“We can’t have any more kids killing themselves over works,” she said.
While Kievits said she’s humbled by the national recognition, she said her efforts are all about the children.
“Most of all, they give me hope, give me hope with this crazy world we’re in,” she said.
She plans to continue as long as she can.
“Go with the Golden Rule,” she said. “Treat others how you want to be treated.”