I must confess I hate bullies. I didn't like them when I was in school and I surely don't like them now. I would guess everyone at some point in their life has encountered a bully. But Olivia Gardner has had to endure bullies like no one I have ever met. She's fourteen years old, a tough time for many adolescents.
It started three years ago when Olivia was a sixth-grader in Novato, California, about a half-hour north of San Francisco. Olivia has epilepsy and had a seizure in front of her classmates. Instead of comforting her, her classmates called her names and started picking on her. She and her mom say it got so bad that she had to switch schools.
But that didn't solve the problem. Despite her mother's calls to the schools and parents involved, word continued to spread that this girl "wasn't normal" and the bullying continued, and in fact, got worse. Kids in her class started an "I hate Olivia club" on MySpace.Com. Even after Olivia transferred to a third middle school, the abuse continued.
A local newspaper reporter doing a story about bullying heard about the teenager's ordeal and did a profile on Olivia. That's where this story takes a positive turn. Two sisters in her Northern California community saw the article and decided to write Olivia a sweet letter basically telling her to "keep her chin up." They encouraged their classmates to write her as well. That was in March.
That small letter writing campaign has become an international phenomenon. More local stories followed, and so did the letters. Dozens became hundreds. Hundreds became thousands. Olivia's story touched a nerve. Most of the letters came from others who had also been bullied. They spoke of the pain it caused them and told Olivia things will get better. They wanted her to know that she's not alone and that people care about her. (Watch girls read letters to Olivia
According to Olivia and her mother, those letters literally saved her life. She had considered suicide, but the touching sentiments made her think twice.
Oliva's plight has brought attention to the problem of bullying. It has also a powerful reminder how a little compassion can make a huge difference and even spark a profound movement.
--By Dan Simon, CNN Correspondent