Rick Meeting With Students

CAMDEN, NY - On Tuesday, November 14th, and Wednesday, November 15th, students at Camden Middle School had an eye-opening experience they won’t soon forget. The Camden Middle School community was fortunate to play host to representatives from the character education organization Sweethearts and Heroes.

Based in St. Alban’s. VT, Sweethearts and Heroes has spread their message of hope and action to over two million students across the United States and Canada. Their goal is to educate others on the impact of hopelessness, reduce bullying, and build empathy and compassion in young people.

With this in mind, the organization delivered two days of powerful character education programming to the entire student body. On Tuesday, the focus was on school-wide presentations. On Wednesday, the focus shifted mainly to small group circle sessions, and to a wide open question and answer discussion. 

The presentations are aimed at cultivating empathy, igniting a message of HOPE (Hold On, Possibilities Exist), and encouraging students to take action and stand up for themselves or others. 

Representing the organization were two incredible and inspirational human beings. 

Tom Murphy is a native of Cooperstown who went on to become an All-American wrestler at SUNY Brockport. After college, he finished a professional mixed martial arts career with a record of 8-0, appeared on Season 2 of The Ultimate Fighter, and spent over one-and-a-half decades in the railroad industry. Today, Tom works hard at being a “superhero” to millions of young people across the country, and wants to inspire all of them to take action and change lives. 

Rick Yarosh is a native of Windsor, NY, and a retired sergeant in the United States Army. He served the nation for five years before he was severely injured in an incident involving an improvised explosive device during a tour in Iraq. On September 1st, 2006, Yarosh suffered a wide array of injuries and severe burns. He lost both ears, his nose, multiple fingers, most of his hand function, and had his right leg amputated below the knee. He was awarded the Purple Heart.  

Today, he serves as the organization’s resident HOPE expert. Yarosh draws on the experiences of that day to show students that they should never give up hope. He also shared stories from his recovery to remind students that if they can work their way out of their comfort zone and stay committed to the task at hand, they can become comfortable doing just about anything. Finally, he encouraged every student to look deeper into what each person in their lives may be going through, and that with effort, you can find your own voice and be comfortable in your own skin.

 For Principal Brittany DerCola, the opportunity to host these engaging and exciting speakers is one that was hard to pass up. 

 “When we look for a program or presentation for our students, we look for something that we feel will make an impact and that our students will connect with. I saw Sweethearts and Heroes at a conference that I attended and I thought they would be the perfect fit to share this message with our students.  They are engaging, Tom has a wrestling and MMA background and Rick is an incredible human being. They are exactly who our students needed to hear from,” DerCola said. 

By the time Wednesday’s sessions closed, Yarosh was quick to point out that the enthusiasm of the students, and a chance to change lives, is what keeps him coming back.

“The fuel is these kids talking to me and sharing their stories with me,” Yarosh said. “I get to share my story and so often, they get to be affected by that story. If I can’t help anyone with my story, then I shouldn’t do this. But I know that we get messages, students want to come talk to us, and we know that we’re able to help.”

He also commended the Camden Middle School community for being a welcoming and positive environment to immerse himself in over a two day period.

As for DerCola, she wrapped up the two days empowered and excited about how this experience will impact students going forward.

“This experience has been incredible,” DerCola said. “Everything that we did over the last two days just reinforces my belief that we have to teach the whole child. We have to support their social and emotional growth as well as their academic growth. It was amazing to see our students connect with Rick and Tom and connect with each other. It was an amazing two days at CMS and I look forward to continuing our work with Sweethearts and Heroes.”