For the past few weeks, Jarod Hopkins and some friends have stood on the Halifax River Bridge, encouraging people to smile.
BY MATT MENCARINI | STAFF WRITER
Drive over the Halifax River Bridge in the afternoon and you may be struck by the urge to smile. You can thank Jarod Hopkins for that.
Hopkins and some friends stand on the northeast corner of the bridge with homemade signs that read, “Smile,” and one large one that reads, “Life is short, smile.”
It’s part of what Hopkins likes to call the Smile Movement, and there really isn’t much more to it than that.
Hopkins and the others out there aren’t working on a school project, promoting anything or gaining service hours. They just want to make people smile, just because.
Hopkins said the idea came partly from his friend Jack Kearney, who was like a big brother to him growing up. Kearney did something similar a few years ago, and it always stuck with Hopkins.
A smile, or a simple kind act, can have an enormous impact on someone’s life, he says.
It all started when Hopkins was reading a “Chicken Soup for the Soul” book a few years ago, and a story about how a random act of kindness convinced a high-schooler not to commit suicide.
Maybe, just maybe, he thinks he could have a similar impact on a stranger driving home from work in Ormond Beach.
“That would mean the world to me,” Hopkins said. “You’ll never know what you prevent. ... But you were out here.”
If you stand out with Hopkins, or Anthony Campanella, Matt Myers, Kyle Cannon, Joshua Webster or Sierra Schlossberg, for more than five minutes, a few things will happen.
First, you’ll start to smile yourself. It’s unavoidable. Next, you start to notice the number of cars and people the Smile Movement reaches. Hundreds of cars drive by and their occupants grin, laugh, wave, stare and, about one every 100, they say, will smile, then flip them off.
To them, that's still counted as a win.
“I was a class jokester,” said Webster, who plans to enlist in the Army in the next few weeks. “It’s just another way to make people smile.”
Schlossberg had simply heard her friends talking about it, and she wanted to see what all the talk was about.
“I want to be social-media famous,” Hopkins said. “I don’t want myself to be famous, but I want to get people all over doing it.”
He said he wants to see the movement spring up in other parts of the country, as well, after people have heard about what he’s doing on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
But for now, Hopkins plans to move to Louisiana in a few weeks, where he'll enroll in a community college near Louisiana State University to get his grades up. Then, hopefully, he'll attend LSU.
Until then, he's enjoying his last few weeks in Ormond.
“I quit my job a few weeks ago,” he said with a smirk. “I had nothing better to do.”