UFC fighter and Purple Heart recipient team up with anti-bullying message

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LYONS, N.Y. — As school starts, so too do the conversations about preventing bullying and teen suicide. The Lyons Central School District found an interesting way to try and reach and teach its students.

Sweethearts & Heroes was founded by former UFC fighter Tom Murphy. Murphy takes his social and emotional wellness team to schools across the county to share a message of hope and action and encourage kids to intervene when they see a peer being bullied.

“Our children are some of the most hopeless, maybe in human history and you say, what do you mean, Tom? Well, things like suicide have tripled, tripled since 2007 in middle schoolers … 30% of young women have considered suicide today, that’s a 2023 stat and the word is hopeless, they don’t feel like they can hold on to the possibilities that exist for their future, so they’re willing to give up at a rate that we’ve never seen before,” he tells News10NBC.

Murphy works closely with Rick Yarosh, a retired U.S. Army sergeant who was badly injured in an IED explosion while deployed in Iraq in 2006. “The only reason I can really talk to them about this is because I know it because I’ve been there,” Yarosh says. Sixty percent of his body was burned during the explosion, and his right leg had to be amputated at the knee. “I don’t know the same exact hopelessness that they are dealing with because I’m not 13 and going through the things that they are going through, but I do know what hopelessness feels like and I know how to get through that,” he explains.

The Sweethearts & Heroes team spoke with Middle and High School students in Lyons during an assembly on Wednesday and then broke into circles where the conversations got more personal.

Murphy says he encourages teens to open up about themselves, not just so they won’t bully each other, but so they’ll step in and say something to try and protect one another if someone else does. The circles bring up tough subjects about topics the teens might not otherwise address among themselves.

In the end, the hope is that the students start the school year out not just thinking about themselves. “The adults aren’t going to make the big difference in this world, it’s the kids. The kids, the peers around them. They are influencing each other,” says Yarosh.

The Sweethearts & Heroes team has similar programs planned in districts across the state and beyond from now through November.

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