O'Fallon Progress

Women hope to make O'Fallon a place where 'hate has no home'

Jessica Gunther and Leslie Wolter hold yard signs for the "Hate Has No Home Here" campaign.
Jessica Gunther and Leslie Wolter hold yard signs for the "Hate Has No Home Here" campaign. For the Progress

A mother of three is starting the “Hate Has No Home Here” national campaign in O’Fallon, hoping this call to action will cultivate compassion and empathy.

Jessica Gunther stresses that it’s not a political-driven cause, but a humanitarian effort to discuss safety and security issues.

“There's no denying this reality. We have to stop what we're doing and pay attention to our own backyards,” she said.

The Hate Has No Home Here Project is a national grassroots campaign that promotes just and inclusive communities by encouraging neighbors to declare their homes, schools, businesses, and places of worship to be safe places where everyone is welcome and valued.

Their slogan: “Creating communities of hope one sign at a time,” is meant to encourage people to place yard signs and other items, such as posters, bumper stickers, fliers and buttons.

They asked those who accept a sign actively stand against any hate witnessed in the community, and “agree to do so by mindfully accepting the pledge,” Gunther said.

“The goal is to bring awareness of hate-filled beliefs, behaviors, routines, traditions or systematic issues that perpetuate hate. We believe it’s important to acknowledge real issues in our communities as they occur, which cause division and are destructive,” she said.

By accepting the sign, you agree to participate in being part of a solution. You agree to actively speak out against hate when it arises and support building a healthier culture through connection, she said.

The Pledge is thus: “I pledge to civilly stand against hateful messages, rhetoric, behaviors and polices or procedures, which perpetuate a culture of hate, bullying and discrimination. Hate is not welcome in my home, neighborhood, school, church, business, government, online or any other community I am a part. I vow to speak out against hate and focus on building a culture of compassion and respect in our community.”

Gunther said efforts started last year and a committee is working on getting support in town. Along with a small group of volunteers, she has been actively seeking more interest, help and support.

She recently appeared before the O’Fallon City Council to seek their endorsement and explain the group’s goals.

Mayor Herb Roach said later that the city is looking into the program.

“It’s a good concept. If you spew hate, nobody wants anything to do with that. It’s best to talk about it all, find out how to make things better,” he said.

With a vehicle packed with blue-and-red yard signs, Gunther and a volunteer, Leslie Wolter, talked about the goals behind the movement.

“The hope is we will start to see signs all around our community. They will act as a catalyst for discussions that we won’t tolerate racism, sexism, xenophobia, discrimination, bullying or any other kind of hate. It will indicate we welcome diversity,” Gunther said.

Gunther said she has been devoted to raising her children, ages 8, 11 and 13, during the last decade. She and her husband, who have lived in O’Fallon for 14 years, consider it a good place to raise a family.

“I think O’Fallon is an amazing place to raise kids, but there is an undercurrent of issues that could be addressed, preventive things to make our community stronger. Because of mass tragedies, we need to deal with things that have never been dealt with,” she said.

As a clinical social worker who sees severely abused and neglected children and their families at her practice, SoulWell, she knows communication can help make things better. Any community, no matter how attractive it looks on the surface, has problems, she pointed out.

For instance, nationwide, suicide is the third-highest cause of death among young people 13 to 19.

“We have to address community health,” she said.

“It’s definitely needed now more than ever,” Wolter said. A career English teacher, Wolter said she got involved because of the negative and divisive attitudes that are so prevalent today. She wants people to be positive about needed changes in the community.

“Humanity for everybody” is how Gunther described her push for inclusion. “It’s a way for us to honor human dignity,” she said.

Because of the way families and neighbors are fragmented these days, it’s important to recognize signs of trouble and toxic environments before they escalate. She is concerned about people who need a good support system.

“We want to find ways to help get people involved. Let’s see where our common values are. We don’t live in a cocoon, but so many people feel isolated,” she said.

“It is also a way to bring comfort to the most vulnerable populations around us, while educating and sending a message we stand in solidarity against hateful ideologies,” Gunther said.

Maybe you hear a racial slur or see a youngster bullied, you can stop it, she said. Fear can spread and lead to negative consequences.

“People are desperate for kindness right now. If we can learn to accept people who are different than us, you can change. What do you value in a community? I don’t know where this program will lead, but it’s a start,” Gunther said.

For those who want to learn more, Hate Has No Home Here O'Fallon will have a community meet and greet at Hemingway's Zen Garden in O'Fallon on Thursday, March 15 from 4 to 7 p.m.

You can Gunther can be reached atJessica.gunther@soulwell.me or visit facebook.com/SoulWell.me or hatehasnohome.org for more information.