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Education

How One 72-Year-Old Aims To Stop Bullies

Almost all of Chula Vista’s Eastlake High School students spent Wednesday morning learning how to stop bullying with the help of the nonprofit Difference Makers International.

Helice “Sparky” Bridges, a 72-year-old grandmother, has been working to stop bullying for more than 35 years. She’s only 5 feet 2 inches tall in heels, but she owned the stage at Eastlake High.

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The whole school, nearly 3,000 students, came to hear her talk. Bridges talked to students about her struggle in an abusive marriage, and how she survived.

After divorcing her husband, Bridges started Difference Makers International, a nonprofit dedicated to helping people learn to appreciate, respect, love and value one another.

Bridges said that bullies are victims. The path to healing starts when they recognize the harm they’ve done and admitting how they’ve been victimized, too.

“People change with love and respect and acknowledgement,” Bridges said.

After Bridges shared her survival story she invited students to the microphone to admit in front of their peers that they are bullies or victims. One by one, students took the microphone and shared their stories.

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A lanky sophomore shuffled up to the stage and talked about the time he bullied a classmate.

“Everyone had been nothing but bullies to him for the entire time he was there, myself included,” the boy said. “I’m not a good person.”

Another sophomore begged her classmates for help.

“I’m just so tired of getting messages to kill myself, I’m really tired of it,” the teary-eyed girl said.

Quickly classmates jumped from the audience to console the troubled young girl.

Sweetwater Union High School District doesn’t keep statistics on bullying incidents. It can be difficult to quantify how much of an impact programs like Difference Makers has on schools like Eastlake.

Bridges said her program works “one student at a time.” And bullies can be victims, too. For Bridges, when a bully is able to recognize the harm they've done, along with the harm they’ve suffered, they have taken their first step toward change.

“The minute we feel like our lives matter, then all of a sudden we see that other peoples' lives matter as well,” Bridges said. “Right now, and I’ve seen this over and over again, kids will be going up to kids they’ve abused and put down, and they will apologize.”