Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Olivia’s Healing Letters To A Girl Who Was Being Bullied

By Pamela J. Wells
Originally Published on 7-6-11 on Inspiring Stories That Touch The Heart

Olivia Gardner and her mother, Kathleen Gardner.
While in the 6th grade at Sinaloa Middle School in Novato, Olivia Gardner suffered an epileptic seizure in school one day. Upon seeing this, her classmates called her retard. From that day forward Olivia would suffer endless bullying from her classmates over a two year period and three different schools.

She was called names and was tormented while she walked in the hallways at school. When Olivia transferred to Hill Middle School, the bullying escalated with students going out of their way to torment her. They even created a web site on MySpace entitled “Olivia Haters.”

Olivia then transferred to a private school in Novato, Marin Christian Academy, and had been going well for close to a year; and then, Olivia and her mother, Kathleen Gardner, reached out to help one of Olivia’s classmates who told them that her parents were abusing her. An investigation was started by child protective services and then word got out about Olivia’s family being involved in reporting it.

Allegedly, the girl had changed her story, telling her classmates that Olivia was trying to break-up her family. That is when the rumors began to spread. Olivia began receiving numerous emails and phone calls with some students even showing their hatred for her by wearing plastic bracelets that said, “I Hate Olivia,” on them.

Olivia felt rejected by her peers wherever she went, no matter where she lived or what school she was in. She withdrew more and more with each incident. The cafeteria lady started letting her eat her lunch behind the counter and she would hide between classes in bathroom stalls, because she would get beat-up. She started having anxiety attacks. Her mother went to school officials, the children’s parents, and even the authorities, but got no help. Many of the parents of the bullies told her mother that, “they didn’t have time for it”; that “it was just typical middle school behavior.” No one seemed to care.

Her mother pulled her out of private school and started homeschooling her. Olivia contemplated committing suicide to end the pain and suffering that became the norm in her life. Fortunately, those thoughts and feeling all changed when in March 2007, complete strangers and sisters, Sarah (14 years old) and Emily Buder (17 years old), read her story in a local newspaper. The sisters felt the pain that she was going through and, feeling compassion for Olivia, they decided to take action.

Olivia Gardner (right), Sarah (center) and Emily Buder (left)
at the San Rafael Community Center. Chronicle photo by
Brant Ward. Credit: Brant Ward
They came up with “Olivia’s Letters,” a letter writing campaign in which they encouraged their peers to take a moment of their time to write letters to Olivia offering their support. They expressed their messages for hope, healing, and understanding; inspiring her and letting her “know that she was not alone and that she had reason to believe in herself again.” All letters were screened by the sisters before giving them to Olivia.

Olivia’s P.O. box began to overflow with letters from thousands of others from around the world offering their heartfelt support and encouragement; including others, from children to adults, who had experienced bullying firsthand. She found solace in those letters of hope and healing.

An expert and an author on issues that adolescents are affected by, Rosalind Wiseman, said that parents are not always aware that their child is being bullied and that children will not always confide in them when this is happening. Her advice is that the warning signs that parents need to watch for are: isolation, losing friends, the avoidance of social situations, changes in appetite, and making excuses in order “to avoid going to school.”

She also said that parents should have open conversations with their children about the way that other people treat them; that they should always feel safe and never feel threatened by or uncomfortable around anyone.

Olivia now says that, “there are a hundred good people out there for every bad person.”

If you would like to show your support for Olivia, you can write to her at:

Olivia’s Letters
c/o Janet Buder
293 Corte Madera Ave.
Mill Valley, California 94941

Copyright © 2011 Pamela J. Wells. All Rights Reserved

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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