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DPAO wants to spread anti-bullying message throughout the north country

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The Disabled Persons Action Organization plans to spread its anti-bullying message throughout the north country.

Respite and Recreation Coordinator Terri A. Fulmer said DPAO clients who participated in the agency play “The Bully and the Geek” want local residents to know that with community support, bullying can be stopped and that those who once were bullied can use their situation to invoke positive change in others.

“People just don’t understand that because these kids are special, they’re bullied,” Mrs. Fulmer said, regarding DPAO’s developmentally disabled clients. “I did a self-esteem workshop with individuals ages 12 and up, and they said it wasn’t fair they were bullied for being different.”

After that, Mrs. Fulmer and a Watertown Family YMCA staff member put together the play “The Bully and the Geek,” about a person who gets bullied on a beach. About a dozen DPAO clients participated in the Nov. 10 play, and members of the Sackets Harbor Glee club sang a few songs.

Heather M. Romanek, 35, played the part of a young woman who sold flowers along the beach and witnessed the bullying. That role came all too close to home for Ms. Romanek, who said she’s had a long history of being bullied. She described herself as someone who has high-functioning autism and Asperger’s syndrome.

“I did this to help get the message out that bullying is wrong,” she said. “It’s not nice and hurts people’s feelings. When I was in high school, there was a lot of picking on me. They’d say different words, like the ‘R’ word, and one girl who didn’t like me said that I belonged to the ‘nerd herd,’ as she called it.”

She said the one time she retaliated, it backfired because the bully’s friends ganged up on her.

Ms. Romanek has been a DPAO client since 1987, when she first participated in the agency’s summer recreation program.

She still attends that seasonal program, and uses DPAO’s day habilitation recreation program.

“I think it can be stopped by doing this play again,” Ms. Romanek said. “Sometimes I think they (bully) because they want to be cool, or they feel so bad about themselves and want to feel better.”

Mrs. Fulmer said she would be willing to bring “The Bully and the Geek” to a community organization or school. For more information, call Mrs. Fulmer at 782-5285.

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