CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Amanda Anderson's daughter, a Kanawha County student, was first bullied when she was in the sixth grade.
"Things have gotten pretty bad. She has no self-esteem. She becomes withdrawn. Her grades dropped. She would cry and say, 'Mom, I just can't take it anymore,' " Anderson said. "That's when you feel helpless as a parent. This is my daughter. I love her with my whole heart. What else can I do to love her and protect her? That's my job.
"I knew that I must not be the only parent who is going through this," she said.
She was right.
Anderson started spreading the word to other parents, and now a group of families from Kanawha, Clay and Roane counties meet once a month to try to tackle bullying in area schools.
The parent-based group, called "Voices Against Bullying," addresses the issues their children are facing, reaches out to school counselors, and is currently raising money to send affected students to a special summer camp.
"I found more and more parents who were dealing with bullying and didn't know what to do or where to turn," she said. "We share our stories. Whatever you hear in this room stays in this room."
While Anderson says that Kanawha County School officials have taken the time to listen to her story, the problems are still there, and her daughter, now an eighth-grader, is still bullied at school.
"I've cried, I've prayed, I've reached out to the school and the board of education. Everyone is nice with me, but it doesn't mean that the bullying has stopped. They can only do so much. That's why we need stiffer penalties for kids who are bullies," she said. "This group wasn't formed to be against the school system -- it's to help them and work together."
"Voices Against Bullying," which is currently comprised of about 20 parents, will address the Kanawha County school board at its regular meeting June 13.
The issue is crucial not only for the students being bullied, Anderson said, but for the bullies.
"It's a lose-lose situation," she said. "The kids who are bullies also have something going on with them and we need to get to that issue, too. The bullies need help too."
Anderson said at the heart of the anti-bullying group is a need for camaraderie - an opportunity for students and parents to feel like they're not alone in their struggles.
"A lot of kids we talk to have written suicide notes or have those feelings, and we want to try to get things in perspective so that they don't have to take their lives or feel like they're the only kids that feel that way," she said. "They are not in this by themselves."
For more information, visit the Voices Against Bullying Facebook page.
Reach Mackenzie Mays at email@example.com