HOUSTON - After years of suffering in silence, many children are finding it easier to speak up about bullying.
It's something that has become the backbone of Bud Collier's IMBULLYFREE program.
"We get the kids together and start talking about what is bullying and start talking about what you can do if somebody starts bullying them," said Bud Collier, IMBULLYFREE program founder.
Collier and his group of volunteers recently spoke to school-aged kids at the Children's Enchanted Learning Center in Pasadena.
Part of the IMBULLYFREE program included Bully Bear, a 6-foot tall man dressed in a bear costume. The kids responded to the giant huggable bear.
Collier handed out black-and-yellow striped rubber bracelets that declare "I am bully free" and have the website written on the inside so kids know where to go if they need help.
Collier began simply by asking them to tell their bullying stories. Hands quickly popped in the air and mouths started talking.
Holly Landrum spoke about a boy holding her under water at the swimming pool, which the 8-year-old said scared her. Holly said people will sometimes say mean things to her, which she said felt like bullying.
"It just makes me feel like I am being beat up because words can hurt you," said Holly, a third-grader.
Another young boy talked about two kids giving him a wedgie.
Then there was Anthony Palacios, who talked about his experience with bullies who not only made fun of his glasses but teased him about a father he didn't meet until he was 4 years old.
"Everybody kept on teasing me. I told my mom and she said, 'Ignore them.' I just couldn't, so I decided to smile and say, 'I am happy about it,' and that really started to freak them out," said Anthony, a 10-year-old going into the fifth grade.
Anthony said what he did worked. Everyone left him alone.
Collier worked with the kids to identify who gets teased and talked about the fact that there is not always a reason, even when it seems like the bullies pick obvious weaknesses.
"There is nothing wrong if you are being bullied to tell somebody because you haven't done anything wrong," Collier said.
Camryn Masera, a 10-year-old who wears glasses and braces, said she knows all about the obvious choices for teasing. She was teased by a boy in the lunchroom for three days.
"He bullied me that I had glasses and looked weird and everything. It was scary and sad," said Camryn, a soon-to-be fifth-grader.
She told her father, who then went to the principal.
"We told the principal and he got detention and apologized. He never bullied me again," Camryn said.
It is Camryn's story that hit home with Collier's group. Collier said he wants kids to speak up about what is going on, and he wants them to know how to get to help from someone.
"It can't just be that once a year we do a program and the signs go up. It has to be a continual thing so kids understand with the parents and teachers," Collier said.
IMBULLYFREE also works with parents so they can find what they need to help their kids deal with bullying.
"We will show them how to file grievances and that process," Collier said.
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