AUBURN — In one incident last winter a teen cyberbullied a teammate, in another, one person harassed someone in the locker room, and in both, looking back, staff at the Auburn-Lewiston YMCA didn't handle it as well as they'd hoped.
They approached both conflict resolution-style, bringing the parties together, trying to talk it out, in hindsight, "probably one of the worst things you can do," Executive Director Brian DuBois said. "After the meeting ends, the person being bullied is going to get pummeled."
So they looked outside for help, and got it. On Friday, Sept. 7, DuBois and staff will formally kick off a new anti-bullying culture, the first YMCA in the state to take part in the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program.
Bullying isn't rampant, he said, and they want to keep it that way.
"It's an effort to get people more aware, to know this is a safe environment for your children," DuBois said. "We want people to know we're being proactive."
Having the two incidents happen last January so close together was eye-opening, he said. After approaching Rosemary Kooy, then-head of Lewiston-Auburn Safe Schools/Healthy Students, she connected them with grant money that Kooy used to train 12 people on staff in the Olweus fundamentals. The program has been adopted by several local schools.
The two-day training took place in April. Since then, those 12 have fanned out to teach most of the staff of 100, from maintenance to membership.
"It's very common for people to handle (a bullying) situation inappropriately," DuBois said. "To a person, we all had an experience thinking back 20, 30, 40 years later we should have done something."
Leaders at the Y have started sitting down with children to establish expectations and rules before bullying happens, one part of Olweus, he said. Children are also being told that if they see someone being bullied, or if it's happening to them, to tell one adult on-site and one adult at home.
"We're also encouraging parents not to dismiss it," DuBois said.
The Friday event, from 6 to 8 p.m., is being double-billed as a kick-off and a family fun night, free and open to the community. Speakers are slated for the first half-hour: Jason Gibbons, emcee for the Maine Red Claws; state Rep. Terry Morrison, D-Portland, who successfully sponsored a bullying bill in the Legislature last spring; and Dax Catalano, a local teen attacked and severely beaten last year after being harassed on Facebook.
The rest of the evening will have family swim, basketball and arts and crafts.