The strategy of choosing love over anger, pain, or frustration has inspired a worldwide Choose Love Movement, and Plymouth State University is being recognized as an appropriate affiliate. New Hampshire as a whole is helping to lead the way in advancing empathy, as was made clear during a recent meeting hosted by First Lady Valerie Sununu in Concord.
Scarlett Lewis founded the Choose Love Movement after her six-year-old son, Jesse, was murdered during the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting in 2012. Motivated to research forms of compassion and teach the world how to avoid similar future tragedies, Lewis found that love, connection, and belonging are universal wants and needs that connect us all. Today, the movement has programs that have been accessed in all 50 states and in 112 countries.
“One of the things that Scarlett did is to consider the life journey of Adam, the shooter,” says Shannon Desilets, a post-trauma specialist who has worked closely with the Sandy Hook community in Newtown, CT. “She felt compelled to take responsibility and chose love in response to the loss of her son. We can’t always control what happens to us, but we can learn to control our response, and by doing so Scarlett took her personal power back.”
Desilets is New Hampshire’s Choose Love Movement program director, reporting to the Governor’s Office and partnering with state agencies, town officials, local chambers of commerce, and other stakeholders. She gave an extensive presentation at the Bridges House, the governor’s official residence in Concord, for a contingent of PSU faculty, staff, and students. Plymouth Selectboard Chair Bill Bolton, Town Clerk Josie Girona Ewing, and representatives of Communities for Alcohol and Drug-Free Youth (CADY), the Mid-State Health Center, and other business and community leaders were also in attendance.
New Hampshire was the first state to make the adoption of the Jesse Lewis Choose Love curriculum a statewide initiative, in order to promote Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). The comprehensive curriculum is available at no cost and has been downloaded by more than 400 New Hampshire schools. It is also being taught within the state Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) system and it is currently being modified for use at New Hampshire Department of Corrections facilities. Additional programs for infants and toddlers, athletes and coaches, communities, and homes are also available at no cost.
Plymouth and PSU are uniquely qualified to serve as a statewide model. The University’s participation is strongly supported by Director of Community Impact Jessica Dutille ’03, ’04MBA, ’20EdD, whose doctoral dissertation, “The Impact of Loving-Kindness on Interbeing in Middle School,” analyzed the phenomenon. “What I know for sure, without a doubt, is that love heals, love is what binds us, and love is exactly what we need,” says Dutille. “We have to embody it and reach out to one another and embrace our connections as a community.”
The Choose Love program fits in well with PSU’s supportive culture. “Our whole focus at Plymouth State isn’t just on education but on the whole student and changing the way they live their lives in a positive way,” says Vice President for Communications, Enrollment and Student Life Marlin Collingwood.
In 2020, the city of Bentonville, in Scarlett Lewis’s native Arkansas, came together in a Choose Love community celebration sponsored by the city, the chamber of commerce, a local museum, and other area organizations. Attendees at the June meeting in Concord discussed hosting a similar event in Plymouth, perhaps next year.
“We’re all about love, and we would love to be the model and the centerpiece to bring the love movement to New Hampshire,” says Collingwood.
The need for a more loving culture on college campuses is clear, given the rising percentages of young people nationwide suffering from anxiety, bullying, or loneliness, or engaging in substance abuse and other destructive behaviors. Desilets notes that even these painful experiences can yield positive outcomes in the form of Post Traumatic Growth (PTG). She explains, “It’s going through the unimaginable and healing in a way that not only helps yourself but the world around you.”
Lewis’s research and consultation with experts yielded the following formula, which has become foundational to the Choose Love Movement: Courage + Gratitude + Forgiveness + Compassion (in action) = Choosing Love. “Courage” can be as basic as overcoming the hesitancy to openly embrace the word “love” itself.
“There a stigma around ‘play,’ ‘love,’ and all of these things that should be so well rounded in our human experience,” said First Lady Valerie Sununu at the June meeting. “All of this stigma breaking is so amazing,” she said, marveling at the Plymouth community’s comfort with the concepts.
Scarlett Lewis will be coming to Plymouth Elementary School on Tuesday, August 24, and plans call for Shannon Desilets to present on-campus this fall.
The Making of a Movement (video)