Two communities are finding ways to support and help each other, as each has gone through tragedy, looking for ways to heal.

A group of Virginia Tech students who are members of Actively Caring for People (AC4P) recently returned from a trip to Chardon High School in Chardon, Ohio, the site of a recent deadly school shooting.

The Actively Caring for People movement started at Virginia Tech following the campus tragedy on April 16, 2007. Students discovered the research of Alumni Distinguished Professor E. Scott Geller in the Department of Psychology in the College of Science. Geller also serves as director of the Center for Applied Behavior Systems. He created the concept of actively caring to reduce workplace injury and create safer working environments.

Students used the same concept to initiate a cultural shift and build a stronger sense of community. The group uses green AC4P wristbands to recognize community members when intentional acts of kindness are observed. Recipients are encouraged to pass the wristband on when they spot similar kind deeds. Each wristband is numbered and organizers have tracked the wristbands across the globe.

The group sent 15 undergraduate and graduate students from Virginia Tech to Chardon High School on May 15, 2012. They delivered a school-wide assembly on the AC4P movement and workshops on AC4P principles to guide the Chardon students’ strategies for enhancing their own community and then actively caring for other communities, thus providing an outlet for them to heal by helping others.

AC4P leader Shane McCarty of Arlington, Va., a Pamplin College of Business recent graduate who is now a Ph.D. student in the industrial/organizational psychology program in the College of Science, said, “After the tragedy in Chardon, the school and community rallied together to help heal. By showing them the concept of Actively Caring for People, they were encouraged to continue that connection in an intentional way, by physically showing how they care for one another.”

Actively Caring for People member Sophia Teie of Washington, D.C., a fifth-year student studying psychology in the College of Science and sociology in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, said their reception at the school was unbelievable. “The community was receiving support from across the country and wanted to do something to give back,” said Teie. “When they recognized themselves as an actively caring community in their school, that’s when they started to find ways to implement an actively caring environment outside of their school. It was touching to be a part of that realization.”

The group says they plan to return to Chardon this fall to check in with and continue to guide the students who volunteered to lead the actively caring movement at their school.

Geller is proud of how students have used his research to incite change on Virginia Tech’s campus and across the globe. “Actively caring is taking off and it is taking off by the work of these students, which is thrilling,” said Geller.

Actively Caring for People draws upon research principles from the Center for Applied Behavior Systems and Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention at Virginia Tech. While it has been applied to healing in the midst of a tragedy, the tactics have also been successful in schools to reduce bullying.

“When students, teachers, and administrators learn and practice actively caring in a way that it becomes part of the culture, bullying just doesn’t fit,” said McCarty.

The group has presented the concept in colleges, universities, and kindergarten through 12th grade schools around the country, including in Virginia, Ohio, California, Arizona, and New York. Over the past two years, the group has seen up to a 55 percent reduction in bullying within six weeks of the program’s implementation.

“We never once talk about bullying at the schools,” explained McCarty. “What we do, however, is create a structure or system to encourage people to do the right thing.”

“Other bullying-reduction programs can come across as feeling like the police, with a punishment or enforcement mentality,” said Teie. “With actively caring, the interaction creates leadership and a feeling of pride from within the students.”

Group member Caitlin Parker of Springfield, Va., a May 2012 Virginia Tech graduate who majored in psychology in the College of Science, says it works because of what students gain, instead of lose. “The program does not take anything away. Peace is not just the absence of violence, but the presence of actively caring behaviors.”

To find out more about Actively Caring for People or to share an actively caring story, go to the group’s website.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

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