Sweethearts & Heroes and spreading kindness

You don't have to be a Sweetheart & Hero to be 'Kind'
Posted on 01/28/2019

The Great Kindness Challenge, a week-long, national campaign, kicked off on Monday at West Irondequoit and is being celebrated throughout our K-6 schools. There are different daily themes: Tuesday, for example, is when students are asked to “give a compliment” to someone.

On Wednesday, students are asked to “smile at 10 people today” and/or “invite someone new at recess to play with you.” On Thursday – and parents are sure to appreciate this one – children are asked to “do something helpful without being asked.”

While our Dake Junior High School students aren’t participating in the Great Kindness Challenge, they received a special message earlier this month. It came from a former Mixed Martial Arts fighter and Army veteran. Tom Murphy and Rick Yarosh travel nationwide for the “Sweethearts & Heroes” organization to provide advice on how to stop bullying and also how to gain and give HOPE. They are passionate speakers.

Yarosh, who suffered burns on more than 60 percent of his body after a 2006 explosion in Iraq, spoke about his own personal journey to find HOPE, which the S&H crew says stands for Hold On Possibilities Exist. It emphasizes the power each one of us has in us to make a difference in the other’s lives.

After that life-altering explosion, which would eventually claim the lives of two other soldiers, Yarosh admitted he had dark days, days when he wanted to give up. He was embarrassed by how he looked and felt all too aware of that in public. But then a chance meeting in a restaurant with a stranger, a little girl who he initially thought feared him, changed his life. In fact, Yarosh says it saved his life.

Her positive reaction gave him hope again and now he goes around the country trying to give it to others. Mrs. Courtney Hathaway and Ms. Nicole Williams were key members of the Dake Counseling team who brought Sweethearts & Heroes back to West Irondequoit for a second visit in recent years. The respect that our Dake students showed Yarosh and Murphy while they were speaking was incredible. This was in line with the message that Sweethearts & Heroes was trying to convey:  We need to show empathy for others, whether they are classmates or strangers. When we witness bullying, we need to do something.

But what can we do that makes a difference? Through a “bully drill,” the always demonstrative Murphy showed how the students could distract the bully, befriend the person who is being bullied or intervene by confronting the bully.  We all have the responsibility to do something to ensure that everyone has hope. Murphy calls that the A-B-Cs of defeating a bully, as in Away, Befriend and Confront.
Tom, a father of four and former wrestler at SUNY Brockport, stressed how the increase in the use of electronics and social media has made students less empathic toward each other.  Bullying through social media is much easier now and students do not see the immediate impact of their actions. He encouraged our “Dakers” to make in-person connections with each other and to put their phones down.  All of that resonated at Dake, where students learn the school’s core values: Mutual Respect, Mutual Responsibility, Shared Purpose and Shared Pride.  

A highlight of the day for many students was the personal interaction they had with Murphy, Yarosh and Rick’s canine companion during some of the lunches following the assembly.  Students also had the opportunity to reflect upon the day by completing a writing prompt in English classes.