Sweethearts and Heroes: Bringing HOPE and ACTION to Students of All Ages


Natalie Garson, Managing Editor

On March 6 and 7, Sweethearts and Heroes, an organization that “educate[s] society on the impact of hopelessness, build[s] empathy and compassion in our youth, and develop[s] young Sweethearts & Heroes to promote bystander empowerment through leadership roles,” according to its website, came to Hastings High School and Hillside Elementary School.

In 2019, Hillside guidance counselor Juliann Snyder observed the program at another school and thought that it would be great for Hillside. She came to Jeanette Kocur, the Director of School Counseling, and they wrote a grant to bring Sweethearts and Heroes to Hastings.

This year, Ms. Kocur decided to look into bringing back the program and expanding it to the high school, in particular due to the pandemic and because “a lot of students need tools to help them to learn to promote healthy and positive social relationships with each other. Being out of school during COVID didn’t allow for these social interactions to occur and for students to learn and practice those skills.”

Of her goals for the program, Ms. Kocur said, “I hope that we are giving students the tools to not only stand up to bullies but to empower them to foster a sense of self, community, and emotional resilience. We always want to build empathy and compassion in our youth.”

One reason for the effectiveness of Sweethearts and Heroes is that its format is arguably more engaging than many previous assemblies and programs as it highlights student participation and connection to real life. Ms. Kocur said that she felt “positive and re-energized” after the high school assembly.

But the program goes beyond assemblies: sophomore volunteers have signed up to go to Hillside multiple times this year to have conversations with students about bullying and empathy. Julia Serbee, one such volunteer, said that the meeting that she participated in “went very well and was a great way to practice with kids and help them.”

Tenth grade volunteers spoke of a similar aspiration for the program as Ms. Kocur. Nitin Kodali said, “I personally think that the program is something that is vital to kids throughout their adolescence. Although we can talk all we want to about bullying and empathy, kids usually tend to brush it off or think that they’re not the problem. However, when you bring in an engaging foundation… it makes real differences.”

The student mentorship aspect of the program is slated to continue into next year, and Ms. Kocur hopes to expand the program to the middle school in the future.