NEW PORT RICHEY — Gary Schineller is changing the world one "hello" at a time.
Schineller, a former sales and marketing executive, now runs an annual campaign to encourage people to reach outside their comfort zones and greet friends and strangers with the phrase, "Hello, from my heart."
The program began in 2002 in the Tampa Bay area and has expanded to 115 countries, according to Schineller, who travels around the area cheerfully meeting with almost "anyone who will give (him) an appointment."
The official campaign runs Sept. 11 through Sept. 21, the United Nations International Day of Peace, though he and those close to him use the phrase year-round. It's used with everyone he comes in contact with, whether in person at the grocery store, over the phone — even via e-mail.
"Most e-mails don't have a greeting," said Schineller, 61. When using "Hello, from my heart," he said, "you feel just a little bit better."
While jogging one morning in his Seven Springs Country Club neighborhood, he realized that people were ignoring each other, and most were looking down. So, he said, he started his own "campaign to be cheery," and "Hello, from my heart" was born.
"You have no idea how many people I meet that don't look happy," he said. "Well, we can make a difference, and I've proven it."
He said that in two weeks of giving friendlier greetings, he noticed a difference, and he believes his neighborhood is a happier place because of it.
From the office in his condo, Schineller pulls out a blue tri-fold bulletin board with statistics showing decreases in violent crime during the 10-day campaign in nine area counties, including Pasco, Pinellas and Hernando, using data he collected from the sheriff's offices in 2002.
At Sawgrass Lake Elementary School in St. Petersburg, the program has continued since Schineller first spoke during an assembly there several years ago. That year, school officials said, there was a 25 percent drop in absences due to sickness, and disciplinary action was down 36 percent during the "Hello, from my heart" campaign.
Diane Kutz, family and community liaison at Sawgrass Lake, said the program is part of the school's character education. They encouraged the staff and students to use the phrase and to greet people with a smile.
"It was a noticeable difference," she said. The cafeteria attendant arranged it so the students would say, "Hello, from my heart," in unison whenever someone entered the lunchroom.
"The kids were having a ball with it," Kutz said. "It was much quieter up here in the front office."
She said they kept it up after the official program ended, and many of the students continue to use the phrase year-round.
"It's still in their little minds," she said.
Harry Blethroad, AARP chapter president for New Port Richey, said Schineller spoke to his group.
"More people need to just say hello," Blethroad said. "You need to make people feel welcome."
But the "Hello, from my heart" phrasing isn't for everyone: "It's nice that he does it, but I can't imagine me doing it," Blethroad said. "I'm wishing him the very best. The goal is excellent."
An ordained minister with Universal Brotherhood, Schineller studied at the Niagara Institute of Behavioral Science and was a year away from a doctorate in transactional analysis. He took Reiki training at the Angels of Light Spiritual Center in New York City, plus read a variety of books and attended seminars that "led me to develop and teach my own style of healing which I call 'Hello, From My Heart' Healing."
He said it starts with recognizing that "all events are happening for me, never to me."
He published a book, How to Have a Nice Day, which won the 2005 Chelson Award for Inspiration, and he frequently speaks as a guest pastor at several churches in the Tampa Bay area, including New Beginnings in Holiday.
He calls himself a mind-body-spirit healer and conducts sessions and classes from the living room in his condo. What he does is a combination of Reiki — a type of touch therapy — and release work.
He encourages his clients to laugh as part of their healing process. He said it's like a prescription: 15 seconds of laughter six times per day.
"As people are happier, they're also healthier," he said.
He quotes the Bible often, saying, "I have a very close, personal relationship with Jesus."
He also recommends people keep a "gratitude journal," making a commitment to write down 10 things per day that you're grateful for — from the smell of fresh jasmine to the person who let you into traffic.
"Fear and gratitude cannot coexist in the same consciousness," he said.
A self-proclaimed "child of the '60s" who was at Woodstock, Schineller has always engaged in meditation, and he admits the road hasn't always been smooth. When he got divorced a while back, he said he went back to his spiritual path. He moved from New York to Florida 11 years ago to care for his aging mother.
"Everything in my life has led me and trained me for this," he said.
Schineller works full time now on his healing sessions and classes, and marketing his "Hello, from my heart" program. He has five volunteers helping him, as well as a professional Internet marketer who's working for free.
"We're measurably creating a happier, healthier, more peaceful community," he said. "It's all about being the change we seek."
"Faith in Motion" is a weekly feature about an individual or group doing something inspiring in the course of a spiritual journey. Story ideas are welcomed, via e-mail. Send them to Mindy.Rubenstein@me.com.