BLOOMINGTON — The students of Cornerstone Christian Academy in Bloomington were told Monday they are more than just special, they are irreplaceable.
“If someone gets out of a chair, I can replace them with another person, but they would be different. Everyone is unique and has their own special talents and personality. That can’t be replaced,” motivational speaker Chip Dayton told the school's sixth-through 12th-graders in an assembly Monday.
The founders of the “You Cannot Be Replaced” movement, Chip and Melissa Dayton of Sea Girt, N.J., spoke about difficulties today’s youths may experience, including depression, thoughts of suicide and not fitting in. The Daytons, parents of eight children, started the movement about six years ago after a number of suicides in their community.
“It’s extremely difficult to talk to kids about something you don’t have the answers to,” said Chip Dayton.
With assistance from their daughter Emily, the Daytons started the organization to help youths in the area of their hometown who were struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts.
“We didn’t intend to start an organization, but we just wanted to help our community,” he said. “But after the seventh suicide in our town, we were talking with Emily, and even though she was sad, we could also see she was mad and wanted answers.
"She told us ‘I just want to tell (those who had killed themselves) that they can’t be replaced once they are gone,’” he said.
The family took that idea and had 500 “You Cannot Be Replaced” wristbands made. Those soon were gone and people were asking for more.
More than 100,000 wristbands have been handed out worldwide since February 2012, including several hundred to Cornerstone students on Monday.
“You Cannot Be Replaced” focuses on strengthening youths and families by promoting the irreplaceable value of each individual, Chip Dayton said.
The Daytons also told the students that while building a community of trust, kindness, friendship and awareness of others isn’t easy, it is a key element in growing up.
“There are no answers with suicides and it just leaves questions and guilt,” said Melissa Dayton. “Those left behind have feelings of shame, anger, rejection, trauma and feelings of abandonment.”
The Daytons also hosted a workshop for parents of Cornerstone students on Monday afternoon.
“It’s really important that we build a community that is authentic and life-giving,” Austin Parker, the spiritual life director at the school, told The Pantagraph. “We have been focusing on four areas of community growth. Those include hospitality, gratitude, promise keeping and truth telling.”
Those themes will be stressed throughout the entire year, Upper School Principal Beth Sondgeroth told The Pantagraph.
“The messages that the Daytons bring are right in line with the message we try to bring here at Cornerstone, particularly this school year,” she said. “Today we are learning how we can take some of these theories and implementing that to assist our students.”
Sondgeroth said it is especially inspiring when students help other students.
Last April, nearly 20 area high school students participated in a fashion show, embracing the “You Cannot Be Replaced” theme. The show, designed to promote awareness of bullying, harassment and suicide prevention, raised more than $6,000.
The designs featured in the show were on display Monday at the school.