A few hundred locals gathered in front of the Aces baseball stadium on Monday to celebrate the second annual Hug Your Kids Day.
Michelle began the holiday in memory of her son Mark Nichols, who died suddenly in 1998, when he was 8 years old. The doctors thought he just had the flu, Nichols said. But Mark died 11 days later of brain cancer.
In 2003, on the five-year anniversary of Mark’s death, the Nichols family had two billboards put up in Houston, Texas that read, “Hug your kids today. We wish we could. In memory of Mark Nichols 1989-1998.”
“The billboards were seen by over 500,0000 people that day and ABC-TV did a touching story about the billboards and our family,” Nichols said.
In 2008, 10 years after Mark’s death, Nichols left her position writing for BusinessWeek to start National Hug Your Kids Day, write a book and start the Hug Your Kids Today movement.
“My big goal is world domination,” Michelle joked. “Eventually, we want to change the behavior of everyone in the world. We’re just having more moms and dads who are focused on their jobs because of the economy stop and hug their kids and remember what’s most important.”
Now, Michelle and her daughter, Amy Nichols, along with an entire network of small businesses and public officials, are working together to spread the message of Hug Your Kids Today.
“When Mark died, we all kind of disconnected emotionally from each other,” 17-year-old Amy said. “She made a big effort to get closer with me and realized every person should be closer to their kids.”
Amy said her mom used her “corporate mindset” to get other businesses involved and spread her ideas.
“She’s a very passionate person,” Amy said. “Everything she does, she goes the whole way with, so I wasn’t surprised when she became really involved with this (Hug Your Kids Today).”
Michelle’s HYKT program won the Nevada 2008 Governor’s Award for distinguished start-up of the year after operating for eight months.
Last year, about 100 people in Reno came to Hug Your Kid Day. On Monday evening, that figure grew to around 1,000.
“I had heard about Hug Your Kid Day from one of my friends and I was going to be at the (baseball) game anyway, so I figured I’d take my kids down early to see what was going on,” Sparks Resident Terry Sayler said.
Hug High School principal Andy Kelly said that what’s most important is “believing in all of our kids.” Kelly said that validating kids is one to make them feel like they’re “on a winning streak.”
“We can completely change the way families interact with each other by promoting this movement,” Michelle said. “It all starts with one hug.”
The following states will be holding events in conjunction with the “Hug Your Kids” project: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin and Ottawa, Quebec, Canada.