A youth program with local ties that's designed to help defeat social isolation is picking up speed in its fourth year. This week they’re promoting inclusion and friendship.
“Start with Hello” is a week-long campaign aimed at teaching children, teens, and young adults about social inclusion and how to connect more fully with others.
The program is part of a national coalition with the group Sandy Hook Promise, which aims to prevent shootings, violence, and other harm in schools through changing cultural practices and attitudes. Sandy Hook Promise was formed after a deadly school shooting took the lives of 26 people at an elementary whose namesake they adopted.
The program was implemented in Madison School District four years ago and is now expanding to other aspects of the city thanks to the support of local government.
“It’s an amazing thing to be a part of,” said Jessica Goudy, the communications director at Madison School District. “But, it’s an even more amazing thing to see the connections being made and the smiles on the kids’ faces as you continue throughout the week.”
The program includes a curriculum in which teachers in Madison School District hold discussions and instruct on social isolation. The focus of the teaching is to explain why loneliness and separation can be so dangerous, what it looks like, and how it can be overcome.
“All sensitive topics like this are best done in a classroom setting,” Goudy said. “In that smaller setting, by the professional— our amazing teachers—who can sit and moderate the conversation.”
“Start with Hello” uses each day of this campaign week to focus on a different concept related to social isolation and promoting inclusion.
It was rolled out Monday in participating schools with a video presentation and classroom discussion. Part of that is “Hello around the globe” in which participants are encouraged to say ‘hello’ and get a greeting back from countries around the world.
On Tuesday, encouraging and uplifting notes were written and passed out to students around the schools. With a slight ironic nod to the band, Wednesday was “Green Day.” Green is the color of mental health awareness and the theme color of Sandy Hook Promise.
Thursday, students and others are encouraged to find a random act of kindness they can do for someone else. Friday is national “No one eats alone day.” All are challenged to find someone lonely at lunch that they can sit by and befriend.
When asked how she feels the program is doing at achieving its goal, Goudy said, though it’s nearly impossible to measure something like overall feelings of social isolation, they work for the individual.
“We’re holding out that somebody who needs to hear it, who needs to see it, is getting this message,” she said.
For more information on the event, visit mymadisoncares.com, and for information regarding Sandy Hook Promise, visit sandyhookpromise.org.