Hand It On: Jill Rigby Garner

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - "That is such a good question and what a complicated question," Jill Rigby Garner replied when I asked her to tell me exactly what Manners of the Heart is.

Jill had a huge dream in the late 90s. She dreamed of an organization that would teach basic, good manners to children.

"My mother always looked at our conduct grades before she looked at the academic grades on our report card. She firmly believed that if we got the conduct straight, and if we were kind, and if we were respectful, and we paid attention in class, and we listened, and we followed directions, that everything else in life would fall into place. And so, I really credit my mother a lot with this whole idea of Manners of the Heart. Because she recognized very early on that if you get the heart set in the right direction that the mind will follow," Jill added.

After guidance from the LSU Incubator Program, Jill applied for and secured a 501(c)(3) non-profit status in 1999 and started Manners of the Heart.

"At that time, I was thinking purely of elementary schools really," she explained about her thought process.

"I had taught manners - table etiquettes really, in my son's elementary school cafeteria - and for five years, from first grade through fifth grade when my twin boys were there in school. And I came every week and taught manners of using a napkin instead of a sleeve of your shirt or how to hold your utensils to cut. And at the end of the fifth year, other schools had started calling our school and asking, 'What are you doing at your school that we're not doing at our school with your kids?' And our principal said, 'It's Jill. She's been teaching this for a long time,'" Jill said.

Almost 20 years later, the Manners of the Heart curriculum has touched over 800 schools spanning all 50 states. I wanted to know if there was one manner more important than all the others.

"I believe there is," Jill said with a smile.

"And it's respect. It's respect. Respect is the foundational principle. When you kind of boil it all down, right, if there's kindness, at the root of kindness, there's respect for someone else. If there's forgiveness, at the root of that, you're going to find respect. If there's compassion, the root of that is going to be respect. So, if you really had to boil it all down to one simple manner, as you asked, I would have to say it's simply to choose respect," she added.

We were sitting in the beautifully appointed Manners of the Heart office in the basement of First Presbyterian Church in downtown Baton Rouge. Beautifully appointed because Jill was an interior decorator at one time in her past.

"You know how much Channel 9 supports the efforts of your incredible organization," I told Jill across the conference table.

"Well, today we are recognizing you and Manners of the Heart as our Hand It On recipient of the week. Here's $300."

"Oh my gosh, Johnny. I didn't see that coming. I didn't see that coming at all," an extremely caught off guard Jill exclaimed, blushing.

"Thank you so much. This is going right back into Manners of the Heart," she added.

To nominate an organization or an individual for Hand It On, send an e-mail to HandItOn@wafb.com.

Copyright 2018 WAFB. All rights reserved.