BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Local volunteers from Sandy Hook Promise (SHP) recently spoke to students at Hughes Elementary School about the importance of initiating conversation with people.  We can become a tighter community when we connect through inclusion.

The program "Start With Hello" is designed to bring individuals and communities together to foster looking out for and caring for one another, according to the Sandy Hook Promise Website.  Young people who are isolated can become a victim of bullying, violence and/or depression. 

John Leo, a local SHP volunteer, said he understands how difficult it may be for you to talk to new people and form connectiveness with people you may find hard to talk to. -- The "Start With Hello" program gives the students tools to make conversation a little easier.  

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Eight out of 10 people say it's difficult to start the conversation. -- Leo said, there are many missed opportunities. He explained, everybody looks happy from the outside -- however, people that look happy may be struggling inside. "[We are] empowering you with these tools [to] cross that threshold and identify when you can talk to somebody else."

The "Start With Hello" program follows these three simple steps:

  • See someone alone 
  • Reach out and help 
  • Start with hello

SHP presenter Erin Biddle-Sirop taught the students the tools to help "break the ice" to encourage the students to get to know one another. This conversation creates and sustains an inclusive culture. She told the students to remember to ask the following key questions to initiate a conversation -- Who, What, When, Where, and Why.

She gave examples -- Ask someone if they have a nickname. What are your favorite things to do? When did you move to town? Where is your favorite place to visit? Why is that your favorite place? -- She asked the students age relatable questions, like, -- "If you were a superhero, who would you be?"-- "If you were an animal, who would you like to be?" She also suggested the "In my shoes" icebreaker, explaining, "Our shoes take us to all different places -- where have your shoes taken you?"

Leo said, "You are always learning -- one of the more complex things is learning about different people. That is what makes it exciting." In conclusion, he said, "You all have to perform -- in hockey, dance, school -- we have to perform and talk to others. -- The more comfortable we are when we talk to others -- the world becomes a better place." 

Each student went home with the "Start With Hello" brochure to share with their families, as well as a limited edition "Start With Hello" bracelet, as a reminder to be kind to others.

To learn more about Sandy Hook Promise, visit their website www.sandyhookpromose.org.