Student lends an ear, hug
In the hustle and bustle of class-to-class transit, Chris Aschmoneit waits, sign in hand, for students that need a hug - or just someone to listen.
Aschmoneit, a 2nd-semester civil engineering major, equipped with a cardboard sign - offers a free ear or hug to passersby.
Aschmoneit's therapeutic pursuit began last Thanksgiving while perusing upworthy.com, a website dedicated to publishing human interest articles. After finding an Upworthy post about camping in public areas and offering free conversation, Aschmoneit decided to bring the concept the idea to UConn.
"I've always liked helping people, and after seeing few Upworthy posts about people trying to get society to talk to each other more it inspired me to help strangers and listen to their problems," Aschmoneit said.
Aschmoneit reaches out to strangers from his perch by a tree in the Union quad or a bench in the Union lobby on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3 to 5 p.m. Slumped by his leg is a crude cardboard sign, constructed in less than an hour from cardboard and duct tape, that reads "Wanna talk? I'll listen. I also give free hugs."
"I kind of like the beat-up sign. It shows you're not trying to sell anything to people, it's just completely open," he said.
While listening to students' problems, the most common topics are stress, school work and family issues. Aschmoneit says he tries to present a neutral stance in these discussions, allowing students to vent and then tackle their problems themselves.
"The common trend is that the problems usually fall in the middle of trivial and very dramatic," he said.
On average the conversations last anywhere from one to five minutes, with the occasional half-hour conversation. Some days are slow, and some days are quite busy; however, for Aschmoneit, it's not about the numbers. Since he began his project, he has given more than two dozen hugs and conversed with almost as many.
Aschmoneit said he is not the focus of the project. Like the Upworthy post he follows, his goal is to spread the idea of humanity caring for humanity.
"I think people care about each other enough," he said. "I'm just trying to get people to talk to each other and get out of their phones."
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