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05.22.2020Inside Verizon

Lead with kindness.

By: Jeremy Godwin
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For Wellness Friday, a Q&A with Guru and Cynthia Germanotta, President and Co-Founder of the Born This Way Foundation.

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  • It’s National EMS (Emergency Medical Services) Week. Thanks to Janna Best for serving her community by volunteering on her local rescue squad for 20years as well as providing exceptional customer care and services through her work at the Verizon 911 Customer Care Center in Piscataway, NJ.
  • Shirley Licin is a Manager of Organizational Effectiveness in Basking Ridge, NJ, currently supporting her sister, Sylvia, a Brooklyn nurse who contracted COVID-19. Sylvia continues to make positive progress as does Baby Esther who is out of ICU but still not home yet.
  • Brian Jonson’s cause is to give veterans one last salute. The Solutions Architect from Cincinnati volunteers with Bugles Across America. With requests from as far as 100 miles away, Brian aims to give as many families as possible a sense of closure -- and the respect every military veteran deserves.
  • For Wellness Friday, a Q&A with Guru and President and Co-Founder of Born This Way Foundation Cynthia Germanotta. It will be an inspiring conversation on supporting mental wellness and how we’re all connected in kindness. Highlights below.

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Click here for a transcript of the webcast.

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Wellness Friday

Guru was joined by President and Co-Founder of Born This Way Foundation Cynthia Germanotta.

Guru: What is “Tea with Mrs. G”?

Cynthia: It started on the road. To my daughter and others I’m known as Mrs. G or Mama G. We have daily check-ins with our team to remind them that their physical and mental health is most important. This was a way for me to check in by sharing my feelings. It wasn't easy or natural for me. It has turned into words of daily affirmation for our team.

Guru: During this time, being positive and gentle with ourselves is so important. Can you elaborate on that?

Cynthia: It’s been a time of firsts for many of our young people. Most notably, the first time they’ve faced a crisis like this. We’re all facing disruption and we’re fearful. We’re in fight-or-flight mode. As my daughter says, it’s ok to not be ok. There is a lack of control. So we address that. We’re open and honest about our feelings. We control what we can. For some it can be volunteering. For others, it’s just tying their shoes and getting through their day.

One example: Judy Salerno, came out of retirement to go back into the community and start volunteering on the front line. By the way, at Born This Way we’re preparing for what we see as the next pandemic, which we see coming in the mental health space.

Guru: Can you talk about the amazing work you've been doing about being kind?

Cynthia: We’re a research-based organization. One thing we’ve learned is that when a youth is in a time of crisis, they would rather talk to a peer than an adult, but most peers lack the experience and knowledge to help effectively. So we developed a tool that is now at Jack.org. Our slogan “Be kind, be there” gives some guidance for equipping young people to be able to recognize and respond to others in trouble.

Guru: Why is it so important for us to consider our mental health?

Cynthia: Mental health should be discussed just as much as our physical health. You should know who is on your mental health team. We find people are not as proactive enough. Yesterday I spoke to teens in Las Vegas and they were sharing that they feel that things have been taken from them, and they are correct and those feelings are valid. But they are not comfortable having these difficult conversations. We encourage everyone to spend five minutes on Jack.org to see some of these conversations.

Guru: You talk about who is on your mental health team. Is it important to start early?

Cynthia: 75% of mental health issues start with people in their mid-20s and many of those start much earlier but they often aren’t diagnosed until years later. That’s why it’s so important to equip young people with tools to help themselves and their friends earlier rather than later so they can live their best lives.

Guru: Is physical distancing making it harder to see if kids are in trouble?

Cynthia: It’s a double-edged sword, but technology, more than ever, is our friend. We talk about physical distancing while remaining socially connected. Today’s young people are used to being online. We’re seeing challenges but we’re also seeing positive stories, like a group of college students at home in Indiana who started a Facebook page, directing people in their community to food resources. They quickly realized that people had other needs so they built a full app that offers, among other things, mental health resources.

Another example: There’s also a brother-sister team, ages 11 and 13. She was having suicidal thoughts. He developed an app for her called “I’m not OK” that allows a person who is having negative thoughts the ability to instantly notify five people. We also have a book coming out called Channel Kindness, with input and an introduction from my daughter, Lady Gaga.

Guru: Any final advice for young people?

Cynthia: Your feelings are valid. It stinks that you’re missing these milestones. We encourage you to celebrate in any way you can. The resilience they develop will help them for the rest of their lives.

Guru: Can you talk about the benefits of forming habits around kindness, especially during moments of crisis?

Cynthia: We’ve done a lot of research and we see a direct correlation between kindness and mental health scores. We know that now is a time of mental health struggles.

Separately, if you focus on kindness as a business, you dramatically improve employee retention. Even doing things like checking in on employees and saying “How are you doing?” makes a big difference. Deloitte is a great example of a company that has implemented kindness in the workplace. We know that 21 days is what it takes to create a habit so at Born This Way we have #BeKind21. My daughter says that no matter who we are, we all have a kindness currency to give.

By the way, some people roll their eyes when they hear kindness. But especially in the workplace, don’t misinterpret kindness with weakness. You can still be a strong leader and lead with kindness.

Guru: In the Asian community we’ve seen. What are some ways that we channel kindness?

Cynthia: No Place For Hate is a great organization. Inclusion is important. I know Verizon works hard in this area.

Guru: What do you do personally?

Cynthia: I’ve added a discipline: I ground myself every morning by writing in my gratitude journal and reading a philosophical passage in a book. It gets me centered, and I work to practice self-care.

I also don’t want to put people under pressure. Don’t be too hard on yourself. This is not a time to try to get six pack abs. I’m first and foremost a mom, and my daughters are not at home with me, so that’s hard, but I’m trying to model behavior of resilience.

We’re doing other things like writing letters to frontline workers. We have so much admiration for everyone doing this difficult work. We encourage kids to write thank you notes to their teachers.

Lastly, I want to say that simply by staying home, wearing your mask, social distancing, that really is enough. We’re all contributing by doing that.

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About the author(s): 

Jeremy Godwin is a member of the Verizon Corporate Communications team and a regular host of Up to Speed. He's the team's resident tech geek and media junkie.

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