by Becky GINOS
UTAH STATE CAPITOL—In a world that is growing in hate and violence, a few people are stepping up to put a stop to it through acts of kindness. Rep. Paul Ray and Sen. Daniel Thatcher along with the family of 14-year-old Alaina Petty, who was killed in the school shooting in Florida, came together on the last day of the legislative session to introduce HCR22 that designates April as a month of kindness in Utah.
“We want to challenge other states to take action too,” said Ray. “It’s in honor of Alaina and the other 16 who were killed senselessly. We want to go forward with kindness.”
The bill came together very quickly, Ray said. “It was drafted in a day and it was past the time to open a bill file but they allowed it.”
Those who perform kind acts can report them using the SafeUT app. “There will be a new feature on the app where users can submit what they did and why it matters,” said Thatcher. “What better way to change the dialogue and outcomes than by changing our focus. Focus on the positive, turn down the negativity and turn up the kindness. At the end of the day it comes back to not just mental health but social health and the ability to interact and communicate with other human beings.”
Ryan Petty, Alaina’s father praised the legislature for taking a stand. “On behalf of 17 families we want to thank the Utah Legislature,” he said. “As families we want this time to be different. As a group of parents we got a bill in Florida. That’s how we get change. We need to focus on what we agree on.”
Petty said his heart goes out to the perpetrator. “If someone would have put their arms around him would it be different? Would it have stopped what happened?” he said. “We need to give them the resources to mental health treatment. It’s not enough to just see something – we need to do something.”
Through tears, Alaina’s older sister Meghan Petty shared memories of her sister. “The things I remember about her most are the little things she did for me,” she said. “She’d make me laugh and make my day better. She was always there. Those things are not hard to do but they mean so much for the people who receive those acts of kindness. You don’t realize it until they’re gone. Small things have a big impact.”
“I want to thank Ryan for coming at this hard time to bring us together,” said Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes. “So many of us in the state of Utah are praying for everyone in Florida. I call this (bill) a wave of kindness. For every act of violence we’ll react with acts of kindness and heroism. I hope this cascades across the nation.”
Reyes said about four years ago not many people wanted to talk about teen suicide and mental health issues. “But then we were able to get the SafeUT app and it’s revolutionized the way we respond,” he said. “Since the end of 2016 it’s helped thwart 86 incidents of threats to schools or our environment. That’s just what we know of.”
The app is designed to prevent future acts of violence. “Any young person who feels something may cause them to harm themselves or someone else is able to text in right away,” said Reyes. “They’ll reach somebody who will help in that immediate crisis.”
In conjunction with the bill, leaders will roll out a website across the nation to support the cause of kindness at msdkindnessmonth.com.
“It’s been amazing,” said Ray. “I can’t believe the strength that Ryan has. Any parent can relate to what they’ve gone through. I pray no other parent has to go through that.”
Petty said they miss Alaina every day. “There’s not a morning when I wake up and think it’s some kind of bad dream,” he said. “That she’s still there and I can hug her and tell her I love her. I want to be the last father to stand up and say my child was killed at school.”