Jun 04, 2019

Middletown’s Chloe Hoban Shares Messages of Kindness

By Lori Draz and Chloe Hoban

Chloe Hoban Middletown Kindess Different nj

Each month our young authors write, in their own voice, stories that will educate and inform fellow students and parents. If you are a teen who would like to write your story, contact The Journal. We’ll help you polish it up, so don’t worry, let’s just get to sharing.

This month’s author is 16-year-old Chloe Hoban, a sophomore at Middletown High School South, who shares a message that is simple in principle but often not practiced: kindness counts. Kindness makes a real difference. It can change lives and transform us all into more compassionate, empathic people. Hoban believes it is OK to be different and has found her purpose in understanding others. Here is her story:

When I was just a 5-year-old in kindergarten at Tower Hill School in Red Bank, a special lady named Laraine Gaunt came to present Understanding Disabilities, part of a program she created called “It’s OK to be Different.” Her kindness greatly impacted who I am today.

“It’s OK to be Different” is a comprehensive program for children beginning as young as pre-K through middle school. It teaches empathy, respect and acceptance of individual differences.

The best part of the program was the conversations it created in my family. We discussed all of the hands-on activities we did, the inspirational speakers we met and literature covered throughout the school year. Our discussions helped reinforce what it means to be a part of a community that supports one another and that people with disabilities are pretty amazing, with a focus on all of the things they can do despite their conditions.

Mrs. Gaunt’s central message is that all people are basically the same. Everyone wants and deserves to be loved and accepted for who they are. The impact of this amazing program has taught my whole household to be kinder and more compassionate.

In middle school, I became an ambassador with the Circle of Friends program. I had lunch every Friday with students who were struggling with various academic and social issues. I looked forward to sharing the compassion I had developed.

I bonded with one girl in particular who was also in my dance studio class. She often had difficulty keeping up with the routine and had many awkward outbursts of frustration which drew attention from my friends and peers. Many felt uncomfortable trying to help her, but I saw it as a perfect opportunity to be a friend. I believed I made a difference, and her frequent and sincere “thank you”s for being a friend will stay with me forever.

Now as a high school sophomore, I have seen the world can be a tough place, with bullying and racism. Mrs. Gaunt’s program opened my eyes to others who have faced special challenges and judgement. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to stand up for others who are facing discrimination and our actions can have a domino effect in a positive way. Respect can be taught, but it’s another thing to implement it. There are so many young teens who feel alone and just by being a good listener, somebody can give them the confidence they desperately need. I am so passionate about instilling kindness into everything I do because I’ve seen how the world can be. And I want to be somebody to change that.

The “It’s Ok to be Different” program has grown to include six units:

• Building Friendships: Be a Buddy Not a Bully (pre-K/kindergarten)

• Understanding Disabilities (fist/second grades)

• Respect For Different Learners (second/third grades)

• Celebrating Cultures (third/fourth grades)

• Courage To Care (fifth through eighth grades)

• Embracing the LGBT Community (sixth through eighth grades)

I recently attended the 40th anniversary celebration of “It’s Ok to be Different” where I read my winning essay for the Genevieve M. Hawley Memorial Foundation’s 2017 Community Service Award. I was asked to spotlight someone who has greatly impacted others with their selfless dedication of service, which in turn, inspired and motivated me personally.

I find Mrs. Gaunt truly inspiring because she has dedicated her entire life to teaching empathy to children. She started out as a special education teacher for the hearing impaired before creating the “It’s OK to be Different” program which has been gaining recognition throughout New Jersey.

Mrs. Gaunt said she often cites my journey when asked how she knows her program is working. I believe her program has prepared me to be of service to others. My advice to young adults is to kill people with kindness. You never know what someone might be going through, so don’t make assumptions. Being there can impact someone’s day, week, month or even life. Take advantage of school programs and organizations that promote peace in an environment. Be the person who stands out in a community. Many people hesitate, waiting for a cue to speak up when something isn’t right. Be the person people take the cue from. Be the role model everyone looks up to. Make a difference; even if it’s small, it’s something. I now feel I am destined to be the friend everybody wishes they had. Making a difference in someone’s life makes me feel like a hero, like I saved someone from feeling small and lifted them to a higher place.

I am ecstatic to say I am a founding member of the newly launched “It’s Ok to be Different” Upstander Club which aims to promote activism among middle and high school students who are passionate about various social justice issues. I hope this program will inspire young adults like me to speak up for others. At the end of the day, it humbles me to know I’ve made an impact in some way, and I know I have Mrs. Gaunt to thank for that.