A Webster Groves teen who was bullied for months at Hixson Middle School has made it her mission to spread awareness of the problem locally, statewide and through social media.
Sydney Wilhelm has started a Facebook page called The Stand against Bullying, which now has more than 350 fans. She's also participated in several local speaking engagements sharing her experience and has testified before state legislators in support of bills to strengthen bullying laws.
"I want to help others and let people know it's not okay to bully," said Sydney, who is now a freshman at Webster Groves High School.
Her family said the bullying began in December 2009 by a group of girls at the middle school. The girls harassed Sydney by phone, in texts and on Facebook. They stalked her house, threw food at her in the school's cafeteria and posted a mock video of her on YouTube.
Sydney's parents, Chris and Michelle Wilhelm, said they sought help from school and district officials, but the bullying continued to the point Sydney was contemplating suicide. In January 2011, Sydney was admitted for psychiatric outpatient services.
The Wilhelms also reached out to Tina Meier, who started the Megan Meier Foundation after her daughter Megan committed suicide five years ago after being cyber-bullied. Meier was able to help Sydney, and shortly afterward, the teen began playing an active role in the foundation.
"Sydney has come a very long way," Meier said. She's really opened up from a closed shell. She smiles now and is very outgoing."
Sydney and her family frequently volunteer to help with the foundation's events. Last month, they won the organization's Volunteer of the Year Award.
In addition to her volunteer work, Sydney has also shared her experience and discussed the negative effects of bullying at an Avery Elementary PTO meeting and a Junior League of St. Louis meeting.
Last year, she testified before lawmakers in Jefferson City on behalf of House Bill 273 on cyber-bullying. That bill, sponsored by Rep. Sue Allen (R-Town and Country), died in committee.
On Wednesday, Sydney and her mom testified again at a hearing in Jefferson City in support of House Bill 1049, also sponsored by Allen. The bill would change the law regarding bullying in schools by establishing specific components that a school district must include in its anti-bullying policy.