When she is addressing students about bullying, Jennifer Hoyt Huerth of Hampden asks them to take a good look at her, then asks them how they believe she might have been perceived when she was in high school.
“Was I athletic? Was I popular?”
Of course she was.
She was “the prom queen; captain of the soccer team.”
And then she tells her story.
She was neither.
“I didn’t fit in,” she said.
“I had no clear place.
“No matter what place I tried, it didn’t work.”
What she was was a victim of bullying.
As a seventh-grader in Bangor, “the bullying was somewhat abusive, sexually,” she told me.
“I was pretty much branded a slut.
“It was carved into my locker. And the terrible thing about that was I was afraid of boys.”
At another school, someone went into every class “and carved very cruel things about me into desks.”
Ugly words were spray-painted on walls or written with black markers.
“I was asked to leave that school,” she said.
In 10th grade, believing she was not receiving the support she needed at home or school, Jennifer ran away and ended up out of state.
“I was faced with homelessness, hunger, depression, drug addiction and abuse,” she has said and, at 18, “I even lived through the birth of my son and then his death.”
Born prematurely and weighing less than 2 pounds, Alex lived just three days.
“He died in my arms, and that moment was my rock bottom,” Jennifer said.
What she realized, she said, “is that I could not support myself, living on minimum wage and, after the baby died, I knew I wanted a baby someday, and I knew I would not be able to do that without an education.”
“My family has always been a supporter of education, but I never thought enough of myself to do anything about it.”
Jennifer returned to Bangor.
She attended The Learning Center and got her GED. She moved to Portland and slept on her sister’s couch while going to community college. Then she transferred to the University of Maine in Orono where she is working on her second master’s degree in counselor education.
Jennifer now is a conduct officer with the student affairs office at the university, helping students get back on track after violating codes of conduct.
Now married, with a son, working and still pursuing her education, Jennifer was asked to speak about her experiences at the UMaine Dropout Prevention Summit last summer.
Since then, she has been asked to speak to other groups and at local schools.
Jennifer told me she was making a presentation about bullying in January at Presque Isle High School when the world learned about the suicide of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince of South Hadley, Mass., which allegedly was caused by bullying.
Jennifer has been told her presentation is life-changing, and she wants to continue to bring it to Maine students.
She founded the Don’t Bully ME Project and has applied for $5,000 in funding from the Pepsi Refresh Project so that next year she can bring her story to 25 Maine schools in 25 weeks.
Nationwide voting runs through June 30, and you can vote once a day for Jennifer at this website.
Hers is one of 1,175 submissions. The top 10 receive the $5,000 grants, and the 500 runners-up go automatically on to the next funding competition, she said.
So vote. Daily. Help bring Don’t Bully ME to your community.
Joni Averill, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402; firstname.lastname@example.org; 990-8288.