Plainfield, VT — To address social and emotional challenges students have faced during the pandemic, a nationally renowned student empowerment and empathy activation program has made it’s way to Vermont to help.

Tom Murphy, co-founder of Sweethearts & Heroes notes how development has been disrupted and talked about how the program is going to schools to teach students more about empathy, compassion and relationship skills.

At Twinfield Union Middle School, Murphy was joined by Rick Yarosh, a retired sergeant with the U.S. Army who shared his story about a time he lost hope but overcame adversity.

In Iraq on September 1, 2006, Yarosh was trapped in a Bradley military vehicle when an improvised explosive device (IED) collided with the vehicle’s fuel tank, setting the vehicle aflame.

“As soon as I was on fire I knew the first thing I had to do was escape,” said Yarosh. “Anything else after that I had to worry about after that, but I had to get out first.”

Yarosh survived but suffered extreme burns over half of his body. He has recovered, and now uses his story to inspire and teach students how to find HOPE if it is lost.

“HOPE stands for hold on possibilities exist and what happened to me in Iraq brought on a lot of hopelessness but we have to hold on to find the true possibilities we have for our future.”

Murphy says he wants to instill the power of HOPE in young students. “Every single one of us has HOPE inside of us that we can give to other people to change or to save lives.”

A Twinfield teacher commented that the program helps teach students to be more aware of each other and reminds them to be kind to one another.

“I think our students had to experience a lot of loss and isolation because of the pandemic over the last couple of years and we know that social media contributes to that as well.

“I think the revolution in our lives should be a revolution of empathy and compassion and I think that is what we need right now in this world.”

Principal Mark Mooney also shared his gratitude towards the program. “We are excited to have the Sweethearts & Heroes program come to Twinfield. Developing a greater sense of empathy and compassion is so important to the establishment of a strong sense of community within our school. Thank you, Sweethearts & Heroes!”