Youth spreads the love

Zach Broyles offers hugs at the Maxwelton Parade. If you want more, come see the huggers at Choochokam.  - Michaela Marx Wheatley
Zach Broyles offers hugs at the Maxwelton Parade. If you want more, come see the huggers at Choochokam.
— image credit: Michaela Marx Wheatley

LANGLEY — The best things in life are free.

A group of South Whidbey teenagers will give away free hugs at Choochokam this year.

There is no big international humanitarian cause behind the “hugathon” and it’s not a fundraiser either. It’s really free.

Recent graduate Ahren Bader-Jarvis decided it would be a wonderful thing to do here on Whidbey Island, so he talked to some friends and they figured out some good times to share hugs.

The group tested the grounds at Maxwelton Parade on July 4. It was a huge success.

“I ended up going alone with

about ten signs saying ‘FREE HUGS’ that I pulled together in about 10 minutes,” Bader-Jarvis said.

“When I arrived I registered with the parade registration and then went in search of people that would be willing to hold signs and give out hugs. I ended up fairly easily giving away all my signs so we had about 10 and a few more people marching and giving out hugs.

“I don’t think any of us counted the amount of hugs that we gave but collectively it was probably between 250 and 500 hugs that were exchanged, maybe more,” Bader-Jarvis said. “People generally loved it.”

But not all people are ready for free hugs.

“Quite frequently there was a hesitant response and then with a bit of encouragement, they eventually say something like ‘Oh, what the heck’ with a smile and then after the hug is over everyone seems to be smiling, if not grinning from ear to ear,” he said.

The free hugs movement was started by Juan Mann in Sydney, Australia. Mann wanted to reach out and hug strangers to brighten up their lives.

While some loved the idea, others didn’t. Police banned Mann and his campaign temporarily due to a fear of lawsuits and general red tape. After that, the campaign became a phenomenon with Mann appearing on Oprah and other talk shows.

“I really think a lot of people would be interested in knowing about this. This act can show that a little compassion can go a long way and that we are reaching out to our community and giving it a hug,” said Bader-Jarvis, who organized the island group of huggers.

Bader-Jarvis and his hugging crew will be in Langley 3 to 7 p.m. on Saturday and 2 to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Island Coffee House & Books will be the starting point for the group. From there they will roam the festival.

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