Every one of us can shape someone’s future

The 2016 Seneca County Health Assessment revealed that 44 percent of area youth reported being bullied in the past year. Youth violence/bullying was identified as one of the priorities to be addressed by the Seneca County Health Alliance’s Community Health Improvement Plan. For that reason, a Seneca County Bullying Prevention Coalition was formed to research bullying in Seneca County and determine effective means of prevention. This coalition is made up of concerned citizens, community leaders and local organizations involved with youth. The coalition is gathering information from local entities to help the community become more aware of the practices that are currently in place to prevent bullying behaviors.

The following column is written by Seneca County Probate and Juvenile Court Judge Jay Meyer.

As a juvenile judge, I have a unique perspective on the impact of bullying on youth. I have seen in our courtroom first-hand how bullying destroys self-esteem, diminishes academic performance, and can lead to behavioral health problems and delinquent behavior.

I wish to take this opportunity to share the thoughts, feelings and emotions of a bullied middle school child whose story I know well. The following is a brief description of what it was like for him to be bullied.

Dread. Every morning I felt dread. Just the thought of school makes my stomach hurt. The second I am dropped off at school, it begins. My bullies seem to be experts at finding that thing or things I am self-conscious about. I try to hide it …but they find it, they poke at it and expose me. Unfortunately, for me, they have a lot to choose from. I am a skinny, complexion challenged kid with a speech impediment. Even the thing I am most proud of, my family and my father, they find a way to make fun of it.

I don’t care about my grades or extracurricular activities. I just want to get through the day. Unfortunately, there is no joy at the end of the school day. The second the last bell rings, I am already worrying about tomorrow. It never seems to end.

For those of you who have heard me speak publicly, you know who this kid is that I am talking about. That kid was me.

The reason for sharing my story is two-fold. First, I wanted to describe, to those who never experienced prolonged bullying, what it felt like to be that kid: to feel weak and powerless. Secondly, I wanted to share my story of hope and publically thank two people who truly made a difference in my life.

My turnaround began when I went to high school. There, I became a part of the choir and band programs. Being a part of these programs gave me a sense of pride and accomplishment.

At the same time, two people in particular helped me leave behind my low self-esteem. These two people were a teacher (Mr. King) and an upperclassman peer (my cousin Matthew Meyer). Mr. King was my church and school choir director. He provided a safe environment for me in his programs. He saw potential in me. He encouraged me. He held me accountable. He challenged me to assume leadership roles in the choir program and pushed me to come out of my shell.

Matthew was a senior when I entered high school. He was confident, successful, principled and popular. He took me under his wing and, by association, made me feel like I belonged.

Over the course of my three years at Columbian, with Matthew and Mr. King’s help, I gained confidence and put my life together. The rest, as they say, is history.

All students, teachers, parents and adults in our community are in a powerful position to impact at-risk kids in our community. I am certain Matthew and Mr. King had no idea, at the time, how much they affected my life at such a critical moment. Something you say or do today truly can shape someone’s future. Just a simple “hello” or inclusion in an activity can mean so much to a kid in distress.

So to Mr. King and Matthew … I say thank you. Thank you for helping me in my time of need. To all of you who read this … I say — be the difference in someone’s life today. Be someone’s Mathew or Mr. King.

You never know … that misfit, outcast or loner you help today may become your elected judge tomorrow.