From left, with faces visible, Serenity Handshy, Amelia Long, Eric Cumber and Landon Verbanac can’t hold back their mirth.
From left, with faces visible, Serenity Handshy, Amelia Long, Eric Cumber and Landon Verbanac can’t hold back their mirth.

When Preston Gunderson was in fourth grade, like the Ripon kids he was speaking to, an older boy knocked his prized Pokemon card collection out of his hands.

Cards spilled all over the floor of the school bus, Gunderson recalled; while the larger student laughed at him and tears welled in Preston’s eyes, he wondered if the day could get any worse.

That’s when his friend, Craig, appeared.

Gunderson told the children at Murray Park and Quest Elementary that Craig became a hero in three simple steps.

He interrupted the incident by saying, “Hey, Preston!” (step 1); he complimented Gunderson, “I like your Pokemon cards” (step 2); and finally he invited Gunderson away from the situation to come play with him (step 3).

Using stories such as this — and no small amount of singing and dancing — Gunderson and Vanessa Montalvo of Minnesota-based Youth Frontiers led the kids in a “Kindness Retreat” Jan. 10.

The event is intended to “empower kids to be ‘everyday heroes’ by using kindness to include others, to be respectful and to make your school a better place,” according to the organization’s website.

Montalvo and Gunderson had local help in the form of Ripon High School/Lumen ACTIVO students Limi Ahmedi, Brendan Baird, Abby Cody, Hunter Cook, Conor Diedrich, Quyn Duffy, Aly Hodge, Kylie Jacobson, Garrett Jennings, Jack Kinziger, Elle Lewis, Olivia Lewis, Marshall Morrin, Kayla Nelson, Hadley Neper, Riley Neper, Grace Rauch, Theo Rauch, Luke Rogers and Hunter Schneider.

Each Friday, ACTIVO students come to Murray Park and Quest to spend an hour with elementary students. High schoolers lead activities for the younger students and help them gain the skills needed to problem-solve everyday conflicts that arise during peer play.

See more photos from the Kindness Retreat in the Jan. 25, 2018 edition of the Ripon Commonwealth Press.