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From Gainesville Florida - For the most part, students embrace 'free hugs'

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Juan Mann on Oprah

Oprah Inspired by Sick Puppies - http://www.aolmusicnewsblog.com/2006/10/30/oprah-inspired-by-sick-puppies/



For the most part, students embrace 'free hugs'

Alligator Contributing Writer

Andrew Stanfill / AlligatorBusiness senior Lauren Powell beams as she gives out free hugs on Turlington Plaza on Oct. 18. Paula Reybitz, a tourism, recreation and sport management senior, smiles in the background.

For some UF students, a walk through Turlington Plaza may end with a giant bear hug from a complete stranger.

A group of UF students has picked up on a movement that started in Sydney, Australia, by giving out free hugs to passersby in the plaza once a week at random.

Their sign, advertising "free hugs," has been on display sporadically for the past few weeks. This week's hugs will be available Thursday.

The group was founded when fraternal twins Richard and Alfred Aday, both UF seniors, came across an online video of Australian Juan Mann hugging complete strangers in Sydney. The twins, along with four other students - three from UF and one from SFCC - decided that free hugs were something they could support.

"When you're watching the video, it feels like you're being hugged too," Richard Aday said.

The three-and-a-half-minute video became an overnight sensation on YouTube.com and was even broadcast on ABC's "Good Morning America."

Mann's actions were banned by city officials, but the video shows him collecting 10,000 signatures on a petition to continue doing what he loves.

Richard Aday purchased an Internet address to spread the group's message. UF junior Sean Weisbrot set up a group on Facebook.com, and members planned their first free hug session.

The Web site features the video of Mann and a message from Richard Aday, but more will be added soon, Richard Aday said.

The group gave out the first free hugs Oct. 13. People are generally nice about the hugs and willing to participate, Richard Aday said.

At first the group only had signs with black lettering, but then it added orange and blue to attract more Gator fans.

About 150 people got hugs on the first day, Richard Aday said.

It's a simple idea, but it feels good to brighten people's days, he said.

Even when people do not agree to a free hug, they usually smile or give a good-natured laugh as they walk past, Weisbrot said.

"Just seeing them smile is good enough for me," he said.

However, some aren't so receptive.

Excuses for refusing a free hug have ranged from "I'm allergic to hugs" to "I just got some love from my boyfriend" or "No thanks, I'm married."

Serial hugger stars on Oprah

By Chris Barrett

October 31, 2006 04:00pm

SYDNEY serial hugger Juan Mann has been been flown nearly 15,000km to give US TV queen Oprah Winfrey a cuddle on her hugely popular talk show.

Mann appeared on Oprah yesterday with Australian singer Shimon Moore, frontman for former Mosman High School band The Sick Puppies, who last month released a song online using footage of the hugger in action as a video clip.

The song, All The Same', was an instant international internet hit, gathering more than seven million hits since being posted on video site youtube.com and sparking a record label bidding war for the unsigned LA-based Sick Puppies' signature.

The track is now the No.2 most added track to Australian radio and a top 10 hit on iTunes.

Moore and Mann's appearance on the famous Oprah couch was seen by a US audience of 22 million viewers.

"I was the only person I knew in my own hometown," he told Oprah.

"So I wanted to get out there and do something that spread a little bit of cheer and cheered me up, and this was the first thing that really came to mind."

The first time he stood in public with his "Free Hugs" sign, Juan says it took an agonizing 15 minutes to receive his first hug.

"This one lady came up and gave me a hug and it was really, really worth it," Juan says.

From that first hug a campaign was born! Thanks to a video on the website YouTube, Juan's movement is spreading worldwide - he is even organizing a global hug day!

So do people think he's crazy? "All the time," Juan says. "People tend to be a bit wary of strange men in velvet coats walking around with giant signs."

from http://www.news.com.au/perthnow/story/0,21598,20677973-5005368,00.html