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West Jordan Journal

‘Most important event of the year’ empowers families, discourages bullying

Nov 03, 2017 03:35PM ● By Jet Burnham

Eighteen-year-old Jacob Hansen, who founded Lionheart Mentoring, shares the life lessons he has learned to inspire teens to be their best selves. (Jet Burnham/City Journals)

Acceptance Day was held to celebrate lacrosse, which finally became a high school-sanctioned sport. Todd Hougaard, whose son has played lacrosse for years, organized the event as a way to get ahead of problems that may arise.

“Just because the High School Activities Association says you’re an official sport, doesn’t mean all the attitudes out there are going to change,” said Hougaard, who said other high school athletes and coaches may be slow to accept lacrosse players and their use of the athletic fields. Changes like this can create an environment of bullying. 

Because no school is untouched by the effects of bullying and suicide, Hougaard, who is the PTA president at Jordan Ridge Elementary in South Jordan, wanted to bring the lacrosse teams together with the community to encourage a feeling of acceptance as well as address the issue of bullying and suicide prevention. 

“From our parent survey, our two biggest concerns are internet safety and bullying,” he said. “In my mind, suicide and bullying are connected.” 

He invited Lisa Mauer from Touchstone Family Connections to provide classes to heal and help families. While youth and high school lacrosse teams from Copper Hills, Bingham, Riverton and Herriman played games on Bingham’s field, classes were available for families inside the school building throughout the day. Professionals met with parents, families and children to discuss topics such as non-violent communication skills, listening skills, cyber-bullying prevention, internet safety, self-acceptance, replacing negative thoughts, safeguarding children and healthy family relationships.

“This is the most important event we’ll hold all year,” Hougaard said. “It’s tackling the issues we’re concerned about. I know those who have gone to classes have been grateful they’ve come.” 

Nancy Pratt, a clinical mental health counselor, talked about suicide prevention through safety planning. She taught families how to design a reaction plan with resources and coping strategies.

“Just having that plan already laid out means that when you’re in the actual state of distress, you don’t have to do the hard work of thinking about what to do about it,” she said.

Steven Barfuss helped parents understand why bullying happens in schools and how to protect kids from it. 

“This is a competitive system,” he said. “We put kids in a competitive environment and give them no tools to deal with it. As a teacher, he noticed the kids who had tools like a strong sense of worth or an attitude of cooperation didn’t get caught up in being cooler or smarter than others to feel good about themselves. He taught families non-violent communication skills to use to deal with bullying. 

Kirk Voss, a parent and licensed marriage and family therapist, empowered parents with family communication skills. He told them that by staying calm and empathetic when kids express negative feelings, they’ll create a relationship in which kids will feel safe to share their feelings when they’re dealing with big problems.

Enthusiastic teens from Lionheart Mentoring met with parents to discuss how to mentor their teenagers through difficult times. They also talked to groups of teens about overcoming negative self-talk, discouragement and addictions to find their life mission and live their dreams.

In the back parking lot of Bingham, Stand4Kind brought BMX stunt bikers and a live band, Foreign Figures, to entertain audiences with two shows. Bike riders shared personal stories of being bullied in between performing tricks and stunts. Jonesy Fedderson said he and other riders have used their passion for biking to rise above the judgments of others that could have kept them from succeeding. Ryan Dare told audiences that kindness and respect for others gets you farther in life than putting others down.

Hougaard said these personal stories made an impression on the kids.

 “It’s a cool guy, talking to them on their level, about big issues,” he said.

Heidi Swapp, who shared the story of her son’s suicide, said everyone is aware of suicide and wants to prevent it but they don’t have the tools. The Day of Acceptance provided those tools. 

“The issue’s not going to go away,” said Hougaard, who said his board will continue to address these topics throughout the year.

 In the week leading up to the event, Jordan Ridge students participated in Kindness Week. Students performed acts of kindness, recording them on a paper chain that eventually stretched all around their school’s library. 

Results of the lacrosse games:

7–8 grade teams, Bingham vs. Riverton (Bingham won 12-4)

5–6 grade teams, Bingham vs. Riverton (Riverton won 11-5)

Herriman’s Sophomore/Freshman team vs. Bingham JV (Bingham won)

Copper Hills JV vs. Riverton JV (CH won 9-2)

Bingham vs. Riverton varsity teams (Bingham won 5-4 in OT)