Eagle River Youth Coalition event encourages empathy, kindness, April 3 | VailDaily.com

Eagle River Youth Coalition event encourages empathy, kindness, April 3

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EDWARDS — The Eagle River Youth Coalition will host its final Eat Chat Parent event of the 2017-18 school year, "Be Kind! Let's Talk Empathy and Share Stories from the Heart," on Tuesday, April 3, at Colorado Mountain College in Edwards.

The presenters — Rachel Verinis, educator, social worker, counselor and mother; Mikayla Curtis, Eagle River Youth Coalition manager of strategic impact; and Eagle Valley Middle School's "No Place For Hate (NP4H)" students — will share poignant stories and offer tips on how to be kind in a world that doesn't always value the nice factor.

Empathy defined

Empathy is, at its simplest, awareness of the feelings and emotions of other people, seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another and feeling with the heart of another. It starts young, and students are already starting to establish themselves as catalysts behind the kindness movement.

EVMS students signed up for No Place For Hate, which is designed to rally a school around the goal of creating a welcoming community committed to stopping all forms of bias and bullying. The group assists in fostering a school culture of respect and creating a safe, inclusive, bully-free learning environment.

"I participated in NP4H because knowing that I am spreading kindness makes me happy. NP4H has changed me because I have learned how to make people feel good, and that makes me feel great," said Sonnett Gripkey, a seventh-grader at the school.

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Gripkey and a few others will share their insights and how the group has made their school feel like a better, more empathetic place to be and learn.

Reflective listener

Curtis will share her training as a reflective listener. Being a reflective listener means understanding both the content and the emotion or meaning behind words, which takes practice but ultimately provides better communication. First, respond to clarify emotional understanding and then clarify content understanding. It's OK for there to be silence, it's OK to not agree with the other person's feelings. The point is to name and validate the emotions, to be engaged in the conversation. Avoid giving unwanted advice — something that is hard for most of us.

'Communication and conflict'

"In my graduate program, we spent time on communication and conflict and how a lot of people don't feel truly heard," Curtis said. "Reflective listening gives people the tools to hear not only what is said but why it is said. It creates opportunity to understand how people are feeling, not just what they're thinking, and gives the speaker a sense that they are being heard."

Engaged listening, in turn, provides a forum for lively, positive communication. Curtis will share tips and techniques during the presentation. Verinis will then encourage the sharing of empathy and compassion from kids to adults.

"I'm going to have everyone walk away with a few techniques to calm their bodies, to lead by example, ways that we can all practice together," she said.

She'll encourage parents to take the time to really connect, really listen, to kids and to create a journey in developing empathy and compassion.

Attendees are encouraged to come ready to smile and to share a positive experience, a kind interaction or stories of empathy.

"As adults, you can't teach empathy, but I think you can show empathy and people see that, people smile back when you smile at them. We all need to smile more," Verinis said.

If you go …

What: Be Kind! Let’s Talk Empathy and Share Stories from the Heart, an Eagle River Youth Coalition Eat Chat Parent event on embracing empathy.

When: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 3.

Where: Room 118, Colorado Mountain College, 150 Miller Ranch Road, Edwards.

More information: Free dinner, babysitting and Spanish interpretation. Youth in grades five and older are encouraged to attend with their parent or trusted adult. RSVP to Carol Johnson at cjohnson@eagleyouth.org.