Students inspiring students

Charna Dovalus, a senior majoring in biology, smiled as she read a folded piece of paper she pulled from a black and white box labeled “Hope Anonymous.”

Inside the box were other folded-up pieces of paper from students who wrote inspiring messages for others to pick up as part of an initiative from the USF Counseling Center:

“Stop the negative voices, you are enough!”

“It gets better, just find your center. The answer is within.”

“This too shall pass, and mistakes mean you’re trying.”

“A lot of people are in a place where they feel like they have no hope and are lost,” Dovalus said. “Just reading a message from someone else, even if you don’t know who it is, just gives you a real taste at ‘Maybe there is hope. Maybe there is a chance out there.’”

Hope Anonymous is one of the newer projects the Counseling Center has started Heidi Petracco, coordinator of outreach, prevention and intervention at the USF Counseling Center, said, to promote mental health well-being on campus.

“This is a part of a whole campaign and it’s about fostering resiliency in students,” Petracco said. “It’s helping everyone cope with the regular ups and downs a little bit easier and so being able to bring something like this to the students, that’s accessible to them anywhere. Once you get that message, you can carry it around with you, you can keep it in your wallet, you can hang it up in the mirror in your home. You can do whatever you want with it, but it will continue to have that lasting impact.”

Petracco said she estimates hundreds of messages have come and gone from the box since the project began last spring at a suicide awareness event.

“Potentially, someone could have put a message in (the box) months ago, and it’s still in here waiting for someone to just randomly pluck it out of the box,” Petracco said. “It’s a living project, and so you put in messages and you never really know when someone’s going to be taking your message.”

Since its kickoff, Petracco said the project has been a popular activity among students at the events it makes an appearance at.

“People have said ‘This is just the message that I needed today,’” Petracco said. “It feels like it was meant for you, even if it was written anonymously. Seeing people put messages in the box, and seeing the smile that comes on their face, it’s just really heartfelt. People have openly cried because of the messages that they’ve received from other people, and so it has a really large impact to be receiving something that’s very personal from a stranger.”

As interest grows, Petracco said students have asked how the Hope Anonymous boxes can be available to students more often, beyond the events the Counseling Center attends throughout the semester.

“Any student group or organization can do something similar,” Petracco said. “All it takes is a box and some paper.”

After receiving her own message of hope, Dovalus picked up a piece of paper and a marker and scrawled her own message on a sheet of paper, folded it up and placed it in the box.

She wrote a message to remind whoever picks up her note that he or she was created with a purpose, and that it’s his or her job to live for that purpose.

“I hope people will be able to look within themselves in that message,” Dovalus said. “And just see who they are within themselves and not what society or the social system is saying that they are.”