FREE HUGS!!! We believed a HUG could make a difference….and it DID!

FREE HUGS!!!
We believed a HUG could make a difference…
…and it DID!
PASS IT ON!!!!!
A few years ago now, I came across a video of a man giving out free hugs.  I was instantly touched by seeing this, and immediately knew it was a project I wanted to do with my high school youth group teens.  I showed them the video, and before it was even half way through, they began asking me, “Jenn, can please we do this!!!???”   Yay!  That was exactly the response I was hoping for…since I had pretty much already made up my mind that we should take on the project! (; 
It was so well received that we do it here several times a year and it is ALWAYS a wonderful success!
THE ORIGINAL IDEA
Juan Mann’s Story
The original video which went viral on youtube, and perhaps you have seen, is the real life story of Juan Mann.  To summerize for you – after feeling alone and moving back to his native Austrailia with almost nothing, he decided that he would make himself a sign that simply read ‘free hugs’ and stand in a heavily populated area of Sydney.  After a slow start and a lot of strange looks, he eventually started to get some hugs.  Not long after, the city actually banned him from standing on the street with his sign and freely hugging people.  He then got a petition going and eventually won the right to return to his act of freely giving hugs in public. 
(You can read all about him and how this came about on his website freehugscampaign.com.  You can also watch his original video on his site or search for it on youtube)
Being that we are a church based youth group, I wanted to keep it a very ‘safe’ version and also to take the opportunity to spread the love among our own church’s members.  Although the teens were eager to go to a mall or another public place, since they are teens, I felt like this might bring about some safety issues in public places; and we could do a greater good by turning it into a youth group ministry project.  We choose a few weekends a year, and we stand outside our main church doors waiting to hug anyone who wants one after all of our 5 masses.
THIS IS THE VIDEO I MADE AFTER OUR FIRST ATTEMPT AT FREE HUGS
What You’ll Need:
– Posterboard & Black Markers or Paint
– Permission from your Pastor/Church
– Permission from the parents of your teens
– Time/Schedule (I had my teens sign up for whatever mass/time slot they were able to attend)
Before You Begin
The only instruction I gave my teens was that they should hold the signs where people could clearly see them.  They could ask, “Would you like a hug?  It’s FREE!”, or they could simply stand there and not say anything, it was up to them. 
I discussed with them that how our current society is so ‘plugged in’ to internet, texting, and social media, that we do most of our social interaction without any human contact at all.  Most teens don’t even type full words or sentences out.  They use things like ‘ily’ instead of I love you, ‘ttyl’ instead of talk to you later, etc.   I don’t have ANY teens in my group who DO NOT have a cell phone, yet I asked them how many of them actually ‘used’ their cell phone to TALK?  Not surprisingly, a few of my teens had text only plans and very limited ‘minutes’ which were to be used only to call their parents.  They laughed at me when I said that as a teen, I actually spent at least 3 hours on the phone each night with friends.  They were amazed and shocked and wanted to know what on earth could we have talked about on the phone for three hours straight???  I also informed them that we had no call waiting, caller id, or voice mail technology yet (it was the 80’s and these things had not yet been invented) so there was no ‘screening’ of who you wanted to or didn’t want to talk to!  (Oh, the horror!)  When I was a teenager, my friends and I hugged EVERY time we greeted eachother or said goodbye.  This was also a surprise to them.
As I began to explain their ‘mission’ …I reminded them that many people who attend church might be those who don’t have spouses or children or anyone to hug at all.  Perhaps, a simple hug would make someone smile, lighten their day, or give them the love/contact they need.  I told them that they should be prepared and available to hug anyone leaving mass.  Adult, teens, children, whomever.  After all, Jesus did say, “Love One Another” and I doubt that he would be ‘choosing’ certain people to hug.  So, we were not to ‘judge’ or ‘target’ who we wished to hug, but to just simply let it happen naturally. 
(I knew this would create an individual experience for each teen as well, as I expected them to receive quite a few ‘no thank you’ responses as well as welcome embraces.)
How It Went
As expected, many of the teens stood there alone getting strange stares at first.  Many promoted saying, “Free Hugs Today, Come Get Yours!  No Cost, Absolutely Free!”  Many teens got denied, and many gave out so many hugs that they lost count.  At that week’s youth group meeting, we discussed how the teens felt, what they experienced, etc.  Many said that they were shocked at how many people were not interested and how many were actually ‘rude’ to them.  Most talked about how they watched each person’s face light up with a smile and how that made them feel inside.  Many talked about how the person they hugged thanked them and told them how the hug just ‘made their day’, etc.  My teens were so excited to share their stories and were talking about how they were all in such a great mood the rest of the day.  The act of ‘spreading a little love’ actually did just as much for them as it did for the person who received the hug.  They were already asking when we could do it again!
As a result, we have done this several times a year for the past few years.  It is always a huge success and the parishioners here at our church look forwrad to seeing us on the patio with our signs. 
Our Video
The original video made by Juan Mann uses the song “All The Same” by the band The Sick Puppies.  Although I do love this song, I had a desire to use a different one that would be specific to our Youth Group and the purpose of Free Hugs here at our church. 
I chose the song “I Believe” by Nikki Yanofsky for a few reasons:
1) I loved the fact that it was an unknown song (at least here in the USA) and that it would give our video a unique sound / message without calling to mind a popular band/song which might already have a memory or other situation tied to it for my teens. (I came across this song only because it was the Canadian Anthem for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.  My husband is from Vancouver, and having been there during that time, I fell in love with the song.  I have always felt it was very unfortunate that the USA coverage of the games did not choose to play/showcase it, but that is another story!)
2) I felt the lyrics fit the message of our Free Hugs Mission wonderfully. 
(although ultimately written for the Olympic Games, you can see how it fits well here)
Should you choose to take on this or a similar mission with your teens, please feel free to share the story with me!  I know how wonderfully it affects us each time we do it, and I’m sure you will find it just as wonderful for you and your teens!
God Bless!
Jenn
Original Free Hugs Video by Juan Mann can be found at:  freehugscampaign.com

Jenn D'Angelo-Lucovic

Jenn is a youth minister from South Florida who has been involved in youth ministry for 20+ years. She believes strongly that helping teens find God in their everyday world is not only necessary, but a much more effective way to connect with them. This means finding God in their day to day activities, their tv choices (yes, including reality tv), music choices, movies, technology, at school, in their social life, etc. With a professional background working in the Entertainment Biz as a Director, Choreographer, & Dancer, she embraces pop culture and uses it in her ministry in some unexpected and fun ways. She is excited to share the creative meetings and events she creates for the teens in her parish.


Jenn D'Angelo-Lucovic


Jenn is a youth minister from South Florida who has been involved in youth ministry for 20+ years. She believes strongly that helping teens find God in their everyday world is not only necessary, but a much more effective way to connect with them. This means finding God in their day to day activities, their tv choices (yes, including reality tv), music choices, movies, technology, at school, in their social life, etc. With a professional background working in the Entertainment Biz as a Director, Choreographer, & Dancer, she embraces pop culture and uses it in her ministry in some unexpected and fun ways. She is excited to share the creative meetings and events she creates for the teens in her parish.



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