SoCal students encouraged to befriend others for 'No One Eats Alone Day'

LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- More than 20 schools in Los Angeles County and 15 in Orange County participated Friday in National No One Eats Alone Day, an effort encouraging students to get to know classmates they don't know well and spot students sitting alone and include them, organizers said.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Miguel Espinoza, Los Angeles Chargers linebacker Nick Szubnar and defensive end Isaac Rochell were set to join students at John Muir Middle School in South Los Angeles as they celebrate National No One Eats Alone Day, which will include two in-class presentations on social isolation.

National No One Eats Alone Day is celebrated by more than 5,000 schools nationwide, according to Laura Talmus, executive director and a co-founder on the San Rafael-based nonprofit organization Beyond Differences, which provides materials for schools participating in the program.

The day was created in 2012 "as a tribute to our daughter, Lili Rachel Smith, who suffered quietly from social isolation in middle school," Talmus said.

Lili was diagnosed with Apert syndrome, a genetic disorder characterized by the premature fusion of certain skull bones which prevents the skull from growing normally and affects the shape of the head and face. A varied number of fingers and toes are fused together. She died at age 15 in 2009.

"Social isolation is a public health problem for millions of children and their families,'' Talmus said. "No One Eats Alone is a powerful step and positive initiative that can change the culture in middle schools to be a more welcoming place for all.''

Beyond Differences seeks to inspire students at all middle schools nationwide to end social isolation and create a culture of belonging for everyone. It will conduct Be Kind Online Day April 26 and Know Your Classmates Day in October.

All of Beyond Differences' programs encourage students to take a pledge to never exclude others, reach out to someone new and spread the word that inclusion is cool, according to Talmus.
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