‘Be nice’ initiative spreads through schools, churches, corporations in West Michigan

Posted at 9:12 AM, Jan 16, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-16 09:13:50-05

HOLLAND, Mich. -- At Elhart Automotive in Holland, you can't walk 10 feet without seeing the phrase "be nice." It's the stop, drop and roll of mental health, an anti-bullying initiative designed to spread awareness surrounding depression and mental health.

"We wear it on our arm, it’s all over the campus," said finance manager Jennifer Obrien-Martinez.

Jeff Elhart, who calls himself the 2nd Playground Director of the Elhart Automotive Campus in Holland, is teaming up with the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan.

"The 'be nice' program has brought out the best of in a lot of us around here," said Jan Houting, Elhart Automotive's marketing IT director.

She says it isn't hard." All you have to do is smile and say good morning or stop and say I see you might be having a rough day, is there something we can do to help?"

Keep in mind the principles the word "nice" spells out:

N - Notice the signs of depression
I - Invite yourself to have a loving and caring conversation
C - Challenge the stigmas
E - Empower others and yourself

Elhart says his company was the first to test the 'be nice' initiative in the corporate world. He's hoping to bring mental illness awareness and suicide prevention education to West Michigan, helping others after he experienced a tragic loss of his own.

In March, 2015, Elhart lost his brother Wayne to suicide. "I knew he was dealing with depression," Elhart said. "It’s been very tough. He was my business partner for 32 years."

The Elharts created the Wayne Elhart Be Nice Memorial Fund. They have raised $550,000, helping to expand the 'be nice' program in schools.

The 'be nice' initiative is holding its first-ever student suicide summit at Zeeland High school Jan 23. More than 1,000 students are expected to attend. If you, or your child would like to attend, talk to your school's principal.

Elhart's son, Ben, created a song in honor of his late uncle in an effort to help his dad. If you would like to listen to the song 'be nice', click here.

"It’s something people can relate to a lot easier," Ben said. "People hear 'mental health' and stray away from it. They're like, 'Oh, that sucks for people that have it, but I don’t want to talk about it.' If they hear a song that has a positive message, maybe they can think back and be like, 'Oh it’s a little bit more important."

Elhart plans to announce two new 'be nice' funds next month, hoping to hit two large markets in Michigan.