Heartbreak helps: Mother attacks problem of bullying after losing daughter
Boardman mom creates program after losing daughter
NORTH JACKSON — Six years ago this month, a heartbroken Diane Demetrios had to bury her only daughter, a victim of a drug overdose.
The Boardman woman did not despair. Rather, she said she wanted to think of a way to create something good out of this horrible chapter in her family’s life.
“My daughter was bullied when she was young and never really did like her looks,” Demetrios said about her daughter, Leslie. “I wanted to do something to help give a positive message to young children.”
A few months after Leslie’s death, the woman enlisted the help of her daughter-in-law, Lora, and the organization Making Kids Count. Shortly thereafter the two women began taking their anti-bullying message to elementary schools.
“I have a teacher’s license for grades kindergarten through third grade,” Lora Demetrios said, “and I wanted to help Diane with her passion project in turning this negative into a positive.”
At first, the pair used stories from children’s books offered by the Scholastic Book Club and exercises for the students to create a positive picture of themselves.
“We used emojis and asked the kids to write a definition of themselves because we wanted to stress that nobody else can define you,” Lora said.
After a few years, Diane said the idea of using animal characters from the children’s books started getting stale.
“We then thought, why not write our own book?” Lora said.
Diane admits she is not a writer, but put pencil to paper and created a story about Leslie, a young girl named after her late daughter who has to move to a new school and encounters a difficult person named Lester. The boy starts to make fun of the new girl because of her different looks.
“Making Kids Count helped find an illustrator from the Youngstown State graphic design department and a publishing company through Pittsburgh,” she said.
Diane said in addition to Leslie, other characters in her book are named after her three grandchildren.
The characters are diverse and have different talents — one’s creative, one’s an athlete and another is a scholar, Lora said.
“Leslie doesn’t shy away from a challenge and explains to Lester why all the crayons in the box are not colored yellow, because one has to make the sky blue!” Diane said about her protagonist.
The book “Listen to Leslie” has now become the center of the anti-bullying message the pair takes to Mahoning County schools each year.
“At the end of the book, Leslie and Lester become friends,” she said.
On Wednesday, the two women visited Jackson-Milton Elementary, where second- and third-graders learned about the inside of apples.
“Lora dropped an apple before the start of her talk in which she told the kids to say good things to one apple and bad things to the dropped apple,” Diane said.
At the end of the presentation, the dropped apple was split open and the children were shown the bruise marks, the result of all the negative talk.
Each student was given a copy of “Listen to Leslie” free of charge, and teachers were given one for their classrooms.
“We choose second graders because they are new readers and are always excited about getting a book,” Diane said.
Diane, who is manager of the Philadelphia Chocolates shop in Boardman, said she sells candy bars to help pay for the book. In about three years, more than 4,000 books have been given away and more than 36,000 chocolate bars have been sold, she said.
The book also has been given to Akron Children’s Hospital, Shriners and St. Jude’s hospitals, as well as University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland. Recently, Toys for Tots has asked for copies, she said.