Wendell Foster’s “Respect Starts Now” campaign, which is only in its second campaign season, is making a difference, according to John Gleason, Community Outreach Specialist for Wendell Foster.
In the spring of 2018, Gleason and his partner Lesley Blake, a part-time receptionist at Wendell Foster and “Respect Starts Now!” presenter, who also receives outpatient services from Wendell Foster, spoke to 3,800 local students over three months. After talking with staff at the participating schools, Gleason moved the presentation to fall and kicked off the campaign in October. In two months, Gleason and Blake have reached 3,700 students with 56 presentations and they still have more this week, Gleason said.
“The campaign is making a difference; they are learning why it is important to be kind,” Gleason said.
Blake, who has cerebral palsy, said she is the perfect example for this presentation because while children are taught to be nice to individuals who display a disability, like herself, they often don’t say anything for fear of being rude.
Through this campaign, the students are interactive with Blake and Gleason, and they often talk to Blake — and not behind her back, according to Gleason.
“I don’t mind answering questions,” Blake said, explaining that kids want to know how she manages cerebral palsy.
Blake tells the students that she is going to do what she is able, and if she needs assistance, she will ask for it.
“It’s OK to ask questions [to other people], ‘Do you mind to help?’” she said.
And this is why Gleason and Blake agree that the Respect program is successful. Blake uses personal examples so the audience can see what it is like to work a little harder.
“We want to educate people to challenge themselves,” Blake said.
According to Gleason, Blake tries to make it clear she has to do things differently. They share how Blake is limited with transportation so when she decides to go to the grocery, for example, she has to take public transportation.
The Respect campaign has teamed up with Highland Elementary School third grade students to work on their service project for the entire class. Laura McCain, the guidance counselor at Highland Elementary School, reached out Wendell Foster, and the school and Wendell Foster asked Rex Robinson to be the artist-in-residence for Highland.
“Our kids need to know more,” McCain said, about this new relationship with Wendell Foster.
Third grade students have been creating art for a display at Wendell Foster and on Nov. 30, this artwork will be revealed at the Wendell Foster campus. The Highland class will be on-site for a reveal and a tour of the campus.
McCain said it is important to take the students to the campus because many of them are unaware of its location even though they drive by it often.
HES believes in building a foundation of service for students, asking each grade complete a service project together, with most collecting items for a local nonprofit and gathering information about the nonprofit.
McCain said the mural project for Wendell Foster requires students to use their time and talents.
“They are not bringing in anything [like other projects],” McCain said.
Students worked with Robinson and HES art teacher, Becky Mobley to create an individual visual representation for what respect means to them.
Tucker Whitehead, a third grade student, created a picture for the mural of two hands.
“One of the hands is an older hand and one is a younger one giving respect and holding hands,” Whitehead said.
Riley Hayden said respect is just something you feel.
“You want to do something for others, not just yourself,” Hayden said. “There are different ways to show respect to others; it’s not just words.”
Hayden decided to show respect through her drawing of a park with a lake. At the lake is a fisherman who is “respecting the property.” There is also a trashcan next to a park bench, and Hayden said cleaning up is a way to show respect also.
Ryann Kasey’s drawing of respect shows something else altogether.
“There are two girls and one didn’t have an umbrella so the other shared hers,” Kasey said. “The flowers on the left and the sunshine show how the girl is happy and respecting the other by saying, ‘Here, you can get under my umbrella.”
Kasey also believes you cannot buy respect because it is a choice to be respectful or not, something she learned during Gleason and Blake’s presentation.
“Someone with a disability may look different, but we need to show respect,” Kasey said. “They don’t have disabilities, they have special abilities.”
Hayden agreed and said that she learned that everyone has a disability and everyone has special abilities, so there really is no difference.
Issac Sterett’s respect picture represented his grandfather, Mark Luckett in his military uniform. Luckett attends all HES veteran activities.
“It shows respect to our country by respecting it,” Sterett said. “People who serve give their lives to protect it.”
Hayden said that respect can take “a lot of different forms,” and each picture for the mural is original to the artist.
McCain said she is not sure where this partnership with Wendell Foster will go, but she is confident that the third graders at Highland have learned that respect is a culture.
“It is touching and warm that [the students] are doing artwork for Wendell Foster,” Blake said.