A good place to start …

It doesn’t take much to make someone feel included: a simple hello, a friendly wave, an inquiry about one’s well being. That’s the premise behind Start with Hello Week, which ran from Feb. 6 through 10 this year.

Start with Hello is the brainchild of the Sandy Hook community, made up of parents and loved ones who lost children in the elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012. 

Twenty children and six adults were slaughtered that day at Sandy Hook Elementary School at the hands of Adam Lanza, who first killed his mother and later committed suicide. Lanza was described as a social outcast who struggled to fit in growing up.

That sense of social isolation, of feeling lonely, left out and/or different, is what Start with Hello is trying to combat. Its mission is to “prevent gun-related deaths due to crime, suicide and accidental discharge so that no other parent experiences the senseless, horrific loss of their child.”

The initiative aims to teach proper social skills to children in grades two through 12, so they can learn how to create a culture of inclusion within their schools and/or youth organizations.

The work is done by 1. building a national base; 2. organizing at a community level; 3. developing and delivering mental health and wellness programs; and 4. advocating for state and federal policy. This grassroots approach and focus on both mental health and wellness and gun safety has a real chance of galvanizing the movement, and, hopefully, instilling change. 

According to literature from Sandy Hook Promise, the nonprofit organization behind Start with Hello, its intent is to “honor all victims of gun violence by turning our tragedy into a moment of transformation by providing programs and practices that protect children from gun violence.”

It’s needed. Each year, between the years of 2003 to 2013, more than 14,700 children up to 18 years of age were shot, with nearly 2,280 dying as a result. 

Mental illness is a real concern, both for the safety of those suffering from the disease and for those in their midst. 

Six-hundred-forty children up to 18 committed suicide between 2003 and 2013, and nearly 1,460 were murdered. All told, 12,506 were injured from gun violence.

Most criminal gun violence is committed by “individuals who lack mental wellness” — those who don’t know how to cope, manage their anger or deal with society. 

The struggle to be mentally well can lead to violence turned inward. More than 90 percent of those who die from suicide are mentally ill. Yet 70 percent of people who do commit suicide tell someone of their plans or give some type of warning sign.

Access to guns is a big concern, too. According to Sandy Hook Promise, “guns used in about 80 percent of all incidents at schools were taken from the home, a friend or a relative” and “approximately half of all gun owners don’t lock up their guns in their homes, including 40 percent of households with children under the age of 18.”

The problems of bullying, social isolation, mental illness and gun control run deep. There are no easy solutions. But it’s important that we, as concerned community members, do our best to counteract feelings and actions that can lead to violence.  Start with Hello is a great place to begin. 

For more, go to www.sandyhookpromise.org.