Have you ever felt lonely, invisible or alone? Now imagine feeling that way every day. Social isolation is a growing epidemic in the United States and within our schools. Too many of our young people suffer silently every day because they feel excluded, left out, or that they don’t belong.
Excessive feelings of social isolation can be associated with violent and suicidal behavior. In fact, one study reports that chronic loneliness increases our risk of an early death by 14 percent. Young people who are isolated can become victims of bullying, violence and depression and as a result, many further pull away from society, struggle with learning and social development and choose to hurt themselves or others.
The good news is that we can do something about this. Together we can create more inclusive and connected classrooms, schools and communities!
Sandy Hook Promise is asking schools across the country to join us February 8-12, 2016 for National Start With Hello Week.
Sandy Hook Promise is a national, nonprofit organization based in Newtown, Connecticut. We are led by several family members whose loved ones were killed in the tragic mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012 that claimed the lives of 20 first graders and six educators. We are focused on preventing gun violence (and all violence) BEFORE it happens by educating and mobilizing parents, schools and communities on mental health and wellness programs that identify, intervene and help at-risk individuals.
We are organizing Start With Hello Week because we want to raises awareness and educate students and the community about how they can reduce social isolation in their classrooms, schools and communities.
Earlier this year, I presented our Start With Hello program in Youngstown, Ohio. After the presentation, a woman came up to me and shared a story about her daughter. While still in high school, her daughter saw another student walking across the school parking lot carrying all of the books and contents from her locker. Her daughter stopped and offered this student a ride home. Years later, after her daughter had graduated from high school, her daughter received an email from the young women to whom she had offered the ride. The email explained that the student had intended to complete suicide that evening and was emptying her locker because she didn’t want her mom to have to do it. The simple act of noticing her and extending a helping hand was enough to convince this young woman that someone did notice her and she wasn’t invisible. That is the power our young people have!
Our Start With Hello Week raises awareness and educates students through training, advertising, activities, public proclamations, media events, contests and awards. Start With Hello Week brings attention to the growing epidemic of social isolation in our schools and communities and empowers young people to create a culture of inclusion and connectedness.
There is no cost to participate in Start With Hello Week. By signing up today at www.sandyhookpromise.org/startwithhelloweek, schools will receive no-cost, easy to implement resources that teach students, grades 2-12, the skills they need to reach out to and include those who may be dealing with chronic social isolation and create a culture of inclusion and connectedness within their school.
The initial Start With Hello training can be accomplished in 45 minutes or less and can take place in the classroom, at an assembly, or led by youth ambassadors. Participating schools also receive access to our no-cost Start With Hello Week Planning Guide that includes ideas and sample templates to help plan their Start With Hello Week activities. Schools can also order materials to help promote their Start With Hello Week, including posters, wristbands and stickers. Schools participating in Start With Hello Week are also eligible to apply for a $10,000 Start With Hello Award.
Please join Sandy Hook Promise and encourage the school that you work with to join us for National Start With Hello Week, February 8-12, 2016. By building a culture of inclusion and connectedness, we can better support our young people; reduce their risk of bullying, violence and depression; and save lives. More information and online registration is available at: www.sandyhookpromise.org/startwithhelloweek.
By Paula Fynboh, National Field Director, Sandy Hook Promise