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In elementary school gymnasiums across the Niagara region of Ontario, students are captivated by the antics of colorful puppets spreading the message “Bullying Hurts.”

It’s a 25-minute story of schoolyard exclusion interspersed with video testimonials of past and current cast members sharing their experiences of bullying.

Jovita de Jong, a member of Jubilee Fellowship Christian Reformed Church in St. Catharines, Ontario, is one of nine puppeteers. She plays the role of Sam, a 4th-grader nearly convinced by classmates to throw rocks at another student.

It’s personal storytelling for many cast members as they talk in the video clips about being bullied and why children treated them that way. De Jong, who has Down’s syndrome, said she doesn’t mind revisiting or hearing these personal stories.

“I feel OK about it, knowing that people besides myself are being bullied, so this gets the message across,” she said.

It’s de Jong’s second production with Mainstream, a nonprofit advocacy organization for adults with developmental disabilities. “What I enjoy most is working with other people I know and being a good example to others,” she said.

Following its earlier production, “Graffiti: What a Waste,” Mainstream’s goal with the traveling puppet shows is to use storytelling as a means to prevent negative behaviors. Stage manager Meaghan Shepard said that when they polled schools they’d visited for another appropriate theme to cover this way, they heard again and again, bullying.

Already performed for more than 73 schools to date, “Bullying Hurts” will visit 59 more schools by the end of the production run in May 2014

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