Kenneth Weishuhn's classmates teased him relentlessly. They even created a Facebook page designed to jeer him and others. The torment went on for weeks.
That is, until April when the 14-year-old took his own life.
Several local community leaders want to make sure a tragedy like Weishuhn's death never happens in Marshalltown, and they want to set an example that will resound throughout the city, telling bullies everywhere that their behavior is unacceptable - in any form.
T-R PHOTO BY DAVID ALEXANDER
Erik Heitland, 20, signs a pledge declaring his commitment to anti-bullying efforts Thursday evening at the Orpheum Theater Center. Paper pledges can be found in today’s T-R or can be signed electronically on the T-R’s website.
Marshalltown is taking a stand.
The effort, Not In Our Town, aims to shine a spotlight on the bullying issue. With several projects geared toward raising awareness and setting a positive example for children, organizers are holding events with an anti-bullying theme in hopes of deterring such behavior.
'It takes a village'
NIOT schedule of events
Community Unity Picnic
Where: Anson Park Shelter
When: 4 to 6:30 p.m. on July 29
What: Potluck, with hot dogs provided. Everyone is welcome. Bring a dish to share.
Where: Marshall County Courthouse lawn
When: Noon on Aug. 30
What: Community rally to demonstrate commitment to anti-bullying. Wear orange NIOT T-shirts and enjoy lunch at the courthouse lawn.
Where: Orpheum Theater Center
When: 7 p.m. Sept. 13
Where: Orpheum Theater Center
When: 7 p.m. Sept. 25
Sign the pledge inside today's paper or visit
Display the NIOT poster insert in today's paper
Buy Not In Our Town T-shirts by contacting Bianca Greazel at 641-792-8658 or email@example.com
Bullies often hide behind anonymity. Nobody knows this better than the staff at the Times-Republican, who regularly witnessed its website users and Vent line callers exploiting the fog of anonymity. Instead of using those avenues as a tool to reach out and comment on their community, many used them as soapbox to spew hate speech.
"Often, when we say 'bullying' we just think of our school kids," Abigail Pelzer, managing editor at the T-R, said during a presentation to the Marshalltown City Council Monday.
But, she said, the initiative is broad and encompassing of all forms of bullying, even among adults.
In June, Mike Schlesinger, publisher of the T-R, and Pelzer decided it was time to put a stop to such comments. A meeting with city, county and business leaders helped form a committee to get the initiative underway.
Not long after, the Orpheum Theater, 220 W. Main St., showcased "Honk!" a musical adaptation of the Ugly Duckling story that emphasizes the bullying elements in the narrative.
"The arts are always a great catalyst to talk about community issues," Pip Gordon, director of the Orpheum, said. "The arts can change minds and hearts."
The theater will also show the 2011 documentary "Bully," some of which was filmed in Iowa, on Sept. 13, as well as "Finding Kind" on Sept. 25.
Between 300 and 400 campaign posters, which read Not In Our Town: Stop Hate. Together., have already been distributed for display in storefronts and homes demonstrating their commitment to the issue.
Proponents of the campaign said they want to emphasize the importance of being aware that bullying happens everywhere. It's not just in the schools. It's all encompassing.
"We spend a lot of time in our work places, so we want them to be safe too," Pelzer said.
Meanwhile, domestic violence is another target of the campaign, she said.
According to the 2011 Marshalltown Police Department's annual report, the MPD fielded calls for 147 incidents of domestic violence.
Gordon said the Orpheum is a good venue to get the program off the ground. Sometimes, she said, art paves the path to wake up a community to its problems.
"It's a symbiotic relationship," she said. "It's takes a village - here is an effort that is really indicative of that."
More than words
Supporters said they are proud of Marshalltown for enacting the Not In Our Town program.
They said it is important the sentiment filter down to the bedrock of the community and instill its members with the idea that not only should they not bully others, but they should also stand up for those being bullied.
"Often when people stand up to bullies or point it out, the bully stands down," Matt Tullis, equity director for Marshalltown Community School District, said.
But, Tullis said it really isn't as easy as simply telling kids not to bully. Bullying can often be hard to define, and there is a fine line between teaching kids not to be bullies but still to be assertive enough to stand up to bullies.
Schools need to teach kids that, sometimes, its OK to challenge authority, which he said can be hard when a child is taught something different at home than they are taught at school.
Peer teaching is useful, he said. Kids, by nature, follow the crowd. If schools can get kids to understand the negative impact of bullying, fewer of them will do it, which will in turn deter others from joining in.
"You will never eliminate bullying and harassing," Tullis said. "It's how we respond to it and what we do to stop it."
Not In Our Town organizers have secured funding to bring Rachel's Challenge to Marshalltown schools this fall. The program, for students in fifth through 12th grades, is named for the first victim of the Columbine Massacre, Rachel Scott.
Marshalltown schools will hold assemblies and training followed by a community event at the Marshalltown High School/Community Auditorium on Aug. 30.
Fostering a sense of community
Organizers are inviting the community to be a part of the movement.
Immigrant Allies has partnered with Not In Our Town to host a community unity picnic on July 29. With a strong Hispanic and Burmese population, the picnic is a chance for citizens to socialize with people of different cultures.
"It's really just an opportunity for people to get to know their neighbors," Sara Curtin-Mosher, secretary for Immigrant Allies and English Language Learner at Lenihan Middle School, said. "We speak different languages and come from different places, but we all like food and games."
Fostering a sense of community helps people commensurate with people of different cultures, she said. It is a preventative, instead of reactive, approach to bullying.
She said the picnic is an opportunity to reach out to and strengthen an already strong community. Working to include everyone in a community, helps quash bullying.
"If you like someone, you are more likely to be friends with them," she said.
As another symbol of the community's solidarity, an Aug. 30 courthouse rally will feature a community lunch and short program with comments from Mayor Gene Beach and Patrice O'Neill, executive producer of the national Not In Our Town organization.
Supporters will don bright orange Not In Our Town T-shirts and community members will be invited to sign the pledge and show their support of the effort.
Aside from attending events, displaying the poster found in today's T-R and signing the pledge, find out how to get involved by visiting tinyurl.com/NIOTMarshalltown.