BOUNTIFUL — A junior high school lunch table doesn’t often seem like the place for a meaningful conversation.
But amid the chaos of choosing between pizza, peanut butter and jelly or chicken sandwiches, 12 Bountiful Junior High students found that — and a bit more — Friday, thanks to some guys who know how difficult junior high can be.
Utah Jazz rookies Justin Wright-Foreman (Hofstra) and Stanton Kidd (Colorado State) were the surprise guests at a special lunch table event that capped “Hello Week” at the school. As part of the Sandy Hook Promise, the school has spent this week talking about making connections and making new friends.
“Making connections with kids helps reduce violence, especially suicide,” said Bountiful Junior High counselor Jodi Holbrook. “We have a ‘Hello Table’ where we’re challenging kids to come and meet at the table, meet someone new, leave your phone behind and make connections. Today’s event is by special invitation.”
The goal, however, was the same.
“It’s all about making new friends,” Holbrook said,
So Wright-Foreman and Kidd sat on opposite sides of the folding table decorated with yellow construction paper and the students slowly filled in the chairs around them.
“What do you look for in a friend?” Wright-Foreman asked the students around him. They shared their thoughts, and he responded.
“Someone who is respectful,” one said.
A young girl added, “Someone who is trustworthy.”
“Someone who is nice to be around,” another said.
And Wright-Foreman offered his own thoughts on the subject: “Someone who listens and is able to understand what I’m going through.”
They discussed favorite things to do, favorite smells and what foods they prefer. But for the students, it wasn’t so much about what the Utah Jazz players had to say. It was that they showed up.
“It was really different because you see them on TV and now they’re at the school,” Savannah Gwin, 13, said. “It was really fun to talk to them.”
Savannah, an eighth grader, said she was a bit nervous when she got the invitation to the special lunch table.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” she said so softly it was barely audible in the chaos of the lunchroom. “It was really cool.”
Evan McBean, 14, said he also had no idea what to expect.
“I thought it was really fun,” he said. “I learned that they like to play video games, too.”
Neither said they are Jazz fans, but they will be watching with more interest after Friday’s lunch. Both players said they feel a kinship with the students because they had their own struggles as young people.
“I’ve definitely been in their shoes before, especially being a middle school kid,” Wright-Foreman said. “I know how hard it can be. ... I used to be an anti-social kid until somebody — one of my principals — convinced me it’s good to go out and meet people.”
And that was his advice to the teens he dined with Friday.
“The biggest message is just be yourself,” he said. “Engage with people because that’s how you ultimately make your friends for the long haul. ... Always just be yourself — and always learn. There are always things to learn. The most exciting part was learning about the kids.”
Kidd echoed his teammate’s sentiments.
“Just to get a chance to tap into their world for the day, hear how their day is going, and just interact with them,” he said of what he enjoyed most about the event.
Sharing a few stories over a slice of pizza may not seem significant, but Holbrook knows the power of a special moment in a young life.
“I think it’s one of those experiences you have in middle school that you’ll remember forever,” she said. “I remember going to the Delta Center when I was in junior high and thinking, ‘This is the best day ever!’ And I didn’t get to actually meet a Jazz player. …
“These students get to actually meet a Jazz player, and so hopefully they draw a connection that someone cared about them.”