Jamie Isaacs was only eight years old when she was first bullied.
And today, Isaacs, now 16, is sharing her story so that other children and teens facing similar heartbreak know that they are not alone.
To that end, Isaacs and her mother, Anne, spoke at the David W. Crohan Community Center in Flanders on Oct. 30 at at 7 p.m., during one of a series of events organized by Southampton Town to raise awareness about bullying.
"The bullying started when I was in second grade," Jamie, who lives in Lake Grove but attends school in St. James, said. "The girl that bullied me was my best friend."
According to Jamie, the other child became jealous of her and her family, and started recruiting other girls to gang up against her.
"In third grade, this girl told another friend of mine that if she didn't hurt me, that she would be hurt instead. The girl told me what the bully was doing and we told the teacher and the principal, but nothing was done to reprimand this girl." The girl, Jamie said, threatened any other children who were her friends. "So they stopped being friends with me," Jamie said.
Jamie's mother Anne Isaacs said she knew right away that her daughter was being bullied.
"It was very upsetting and painful," she said. "I had no idea that the bullying and torment would last six years and total 22 kids, both boys and girls, harassing Jamie on a daily basis." She added, "I didn't realize how the whole house would be turned upside down because of little kids. I didn't realize that our health would later become compromised due to the daily abuse and stress."
Describing the ordeal, Jamie said she was upset all the time.
"I didn't want to go to school, but yet, I loved school. I was so distraught and couldn't understand how my best friend would betray me like this and go out of her way to hurt me and take my other friends away," Jamie said. "Sometimes I was so upset, I would make myself sick and throw up. Sometimes I didn't want to get out of bed. One day I took a doll and colored her eyes black and showed my mom and told her that this was how I felt. I had so much pain inside of me, that I didn't know how to describe what I was feeling. I was scared, frightened, sad, angry, depressed."
Both Jamie and her mother said that school administrators did not help, advising the child to "'Try and mend the fence.' I hate that saying," Jamie said.
After her parents withdrew Jamie from public school, the bullies next targeted her brother, she said. "I realized that something had to get done right away to stop this outrageous behavior," Jamie said.
Jamie read an article describing the efforts of Suffolk County Legislator Jon Cooper to stop cyberbullying and asked her mother to reach out to him.
Jamie met with Cooper and showed him the paper trail and tape recordings of the principal and staff telling her and her parents that there was nothing they could do to get the bullying to stop, and that she should consider changing schools.
Cooper, she said, "was flabbergasted at what he heard and read." Subsequently, Cooper asked Jamie for advice on Suffolk County cyberbullying legislation. "I became empowered," Jamie said. "I felt unstoppable. I wanted to be able to help more families and teens through this horrible epidemic of bullying."
In those moments, Jamie was fueled with determination and conviction as she told her parents that she wanted to form a foundation to help eradicate bullying.
The foundation, and the invaluable contacts the Isaacs family had made with elected officials and others in the quest to help their daughter, "would be able to save so many lives," Jamie said. "There are so many families out there that truly don't know what to do when their child is being bullied. My mom was once that parent that didn't know what to do -- and she had to figure it our by herself."
The Jamie Isaacs Foundation for Anti-Bullying, Inc. is a not-for-profit organization born to help other young people know that they are not alone and provide concrete helps to those being bullied. And in helping others, Jamie has found her strong inner voice.
"It feels amazing," she said. "It has truly helped me heal. When you're being bullied, you think you are the only one and you're alone. But that's not true."
Jamie said she cannot believe how many lives she has touched by doing in-school presentations, camp presentations, library, and prison presentations.
"It's extremely gratifying to know that teens listen to what I have to say. It wasn't too long ago that my voice was not heard -- and now, teens all over the United States are asking me for advice with their bullying crisis."
Teens, Jamie added, are able to open up to a young person who has shared their experience; currently, she speaks to and counsels 12 teens a night. "Some of them just want reassurance, while others are still being bullied, and want to be able to stand up to them, but don't know how. I help them through these situations," she said.
Today, Jamie said she is working with New York State Senator Jeffrey Klein to help pass a criminal component of currently existing New York State harassment legislation.
Currently, she added, no legislation addresses electronic devices. "These laws need to be re-vamped to fit into our forever-changing society. How can we have harassment laws that only pertain to regular face to face harassment and stalking when cyber-bullying is in the forefront and always will be?" she asked.
"Bullying will never stop. It's human nature. But new legislation can control what is happening right now and down the road, as technology gets bigger and better, I will keep on pushing for these new laws as well as continue spreading awareness."
Looking ahead, Jamie says today, her future is bright with promise. Currently a high school junior, she plans to major in equine business management and therapeutic horsemanship in college; one day, she hopes to have a therapeutic ranch to help rehabilitate handicapped and mentally challenged chldren and adults -- as well as victims of bullying and bullies.
"Bullies need to learn how to give love, while bullied victims need to learn how to receive love. Horses can make that happen," Jamie said.
For teens who are currently being bullied, Jamie has words born of heartache and stength: "Don't give up," she said. "Suicide is not the answer, and never will be."
Teens, she said, should remember that they are special, and not let anyone strip them of that knowledge.
"Life is a precious gift that no one should ever have taken away, especially by someone who is out to destroy you with harsh words, jealousy, envy and lies. Be proud of who you are and stand strong."
Her experience as a victim of bullying has changed her forever, Jamie said. "While it did rob me of my childhood in some ways, such as not hanging out with friends in the neighborhood, riding my bike, or going for a walk -- it also did something for me that I am forever grateful for. It made me who I am today. A very strong, dedicated, focused 16-year-old woman."
She added, "I would like to say 'thank you" to all of those that bullied me. You made me realize that I was very special and that I had something that you must have wanted. I am glad that I found my inner strength to succeed. Because of them, I was able to change schools and be all that I can be. I've received so many awards and even have my own state holiday. June 16 is Jamie Isaacs Day in New York. Now, that's cool."