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A sellout crowd packed the Edmond Town Hall Theatre February 1 for a rescheduled launch of The Avielle Foundation’s yearlong Brainstorm Experience Series, which featured an extremely optimistic Steve Gross — founder and chief playmaker of the Life is Good Kids Foundation.
The nearly two-hour event provided among the first, and by far the most well-attended, public activities the Avielle Foundation and its co-founder Jeremy Richman and his wife Jennifer Hensel have presented to help promote the important and globally recognized work they are doing in memory of their daughter, Avielle, who was among the victims of 12/14.
The Brainstorm Experience series is welcoming a diverse group of thought leaders, advocates, and celebrities from across society to Newtown, to offer unique perspectives on the care, science, strength, and vulnerability of the brain. The Avielle Foundation staff and its founders hope these events will promote bringing Newtown community members together in a stimulating and engaging environment in which learning, connection, and inspiration provoke imagination.
By doing that, they believe these experiences will enhance understanding of the strengths and vulnerabilities of the brain.
While Dr Richman, a brain scientist, has been impressing peers and others across the globe engaged in similar efforts to understand and better influence brain health, the February 1 event may have been the first time many residents and others actually had an opportunity to meet him and his Brainstorm Director Suzy DeYoung, who worked supporting community members in the days and months following the Sandy Hook tragedy.
The foundation’s next event on February 27 will introduce award-winning author and suicide survivor Kevin Hines, who is one of only 36 people to survive a plunge from San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, and he is the only such survivor who is actively spreading the message of living mentally healthy around the globe. That session will be followed by an April 11 appearance by Dan Harris, ABC News correspondent, Nightline anchor, and author of 10% Happier and Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics.
The Avielle Foundation follows up May 15 with the bestselling author of Queen Bees & Wannabes, Rosalind Wiseman. The book was the inspiration for the movie Mean Girls; Jane Pauley, CBS News and author of Living with Bipolar on June 19; Bessel van der Kolk, MD, a trauma expert and author of The Body Keeps the Score on August 24; and the foundation’s highly successful Newtown Yoga Fest the following day on August 25.
Over the course of his February 1 appearance, Mr Gross not only evoked frequent outbursts of laughter, but inspired several hundred in attendance to stand up, jump for joy, fist pump, double high five, wiggle with an “invisible hula hoop,” and even got most of them hugging perfect strangers. During that exercise near the top of his presentation, he did advise anyone who did not wish to be hugged to “just hug yourself.”
“It’s never about perfection, it’s about connection,” he related. “But if you see someone hugging themselves, don’t hug them.”
Describing himself as an optimist and a storyteller, Mr Gross frequently employed effective and easy to remember catch phrases to reinforce his narrative.
“I’m here spreading the power of optimism,” he said. “Life isn’t easy, but there is a lot of goodness around if you just allow yourself to see it.”
At one point, Mr Gross flashed an image of Dr William James, who offered the first training in psychology in the United States along with the quote: “Human beings can alter their minds by altering their attitude of mind.”
That led the Life Is Good representative into a segment of his talk where he outlined a series of core beliefs that he promotes to foster more optimism and positive brain health. Projecting a 20-foot image of a glass half full (or half empty) Mr Gross explained that everyone is born with a certain “set point,” and that people today have a tendency to overlook the good around them.
“Someone described the brain as Teflon for good stuff and Velcro for bad stuff,” he said, adding that “If we can’t see the goodness in ourselves, we won’t see the goodness in others. And no matter how much you might hate someone, there is goodness in them.”
Moving on, he flashed an image of boxer Mike Tyson and a quote that read, “Everyone’s got a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Mr Gross went on to explain that when someone figuratively gets punched in the mouth over an over again in interactions or by situations, or they get dealt one big punch, it derails optimism and can make people withdraw.
“But when you are rooted in optimism, you unlock your greatest super powers,” Mr Gross related.
During a Q&A portion of the presentation, he was joined by Dr Richman and Ms DeYoung who fielded questions being texted by the audience. Responding to one about how to help a loved one discover optimism, he replied, “It’s not our responsibility to make others happy, just give them an environment where they can discover happiness.”
Reflecting back on the event, Dr Richman told The Newtown Bee, “It was exciting to see our vision of the Brainstorm Experience come to life.”
“Steve Gross was the perfect Brainstormer to launch the series. His message of optimism as a universal force which connects us even at our lowest moments was brilliantly simple,” Dr Richman said. “The energy in Edmond [Town] Hall was invigorating and precisely what we’d hope to create when we conceived the Brainstorm Experience. The Avielle Foundation is looking forward to filling the Edmond Town Hall Theatre with this same energy throughout the series.”
Ms DeYoung added how wonderful it was to see more than 300 people attend the launch of The Brainstorm Experience.
“Communities thrive when people are able to engage, connect, to learn, and to use their imaginations,” she said. “I’m so glad Steve’s talk provided attendees such opportunities, and we are hoping future Brainstorm Experiences will offer the same.”
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