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Sweethearts & Heroes Event Brings Message of Hope & Action to Hastings

kids on stage sitting in chairsOn March 6-7, Sweethearts and Heroes, an organization that uses social-emotional learning methods to empower students, encourage empathy, and put an end to bullying and suicide, came to Hastings High School and Hillside Elementary School to give presentations. The two-day event was organized by Hastings’ Director of School Counseling Jeanette Kocur and was funded by a grant from the Hastings Education Foundation.

Throughout both days, Founders Tom Murphy, a former professional mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter and Ultimate Fighting Champion, and Rick Yarosh, a retired United States Army Sergeant, led students through various segments on how to defeat bullies. 

Day one with the high schoolers kicked off with a video of Murphy’s MMA journey. Murphy described how he doesn’t enjoy fighting, and that his purpose for pursuing MMA is based in the belief that we should always challenge ourselves to become better. 


Before students delved into Circle, a ritual derived from ancient times that involves communicating in a circle to foster empathy, they heard stories and statistics about suicide rates in young people. 

“They spoke openly about these statistics,” said Assistant Principal of Hastings High School Melissa Hardesty. “The message to students was that when they don’t take action against bullies, they are remiss in their responsibilities as human beings.” 

Yarosh also shared an inspiring story. After returning home from Iraq, he had lost all hope, and was afraid that his appearance would scare people away. One day, a young girl and her grandfather sat in the booth across from him at a restaurant. The grandfather encouraged his granddaughter to go say hello to Yarosh. She rose from her seat and slowly moved towards him.

L to R: Tom Murphy (Founder), Pat Fish (Director of BRAVE Buddies & Youth Leadership & SEL Programs), Rick Yorash (Founder)“Hi, how are you?” Yarosh said. The girl turned away and scurried back to her grandfather’s arms.

Thinking that he had scared the girl off, Yarosh spun back into a feeling of hopelessness until he heard the young girl say to her grandfather faintly, “He’s so nice.” 

From that point forward, Yarosh vowed that he would never change the path of his life because of his circumstances.

“I’ve helped so many people get hope back,” he said.

The next day at Hillside, students in grades K-2 and 3-4 attended separate presentations focused on the A, B, Cs of bullying, how to recognize it, and how to stop it. Returning to their classrooms, they practiced bully drills with their BRAVE buddies from Hastings High School. 

Through interactive role-playing, they were given the tools to carry HOPE (Hold On Possibilities Exist!) and ‘Jump into Action’ for those in need. 

With teachings tailored to the different grade levels, the overarching message remained the same: there is always HOPE and when we use our superpowers for good and for truth, that is how we change the world.