You know, I never thought that an argument on the internet would be productive.
I furiously slammed my keyboard until the tips of my fingers hurt. On February 14th, 2009 there was an event supported by To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA) asking people to write “LOVE” on their arms in order to spread word about TWLOHA and to remind people they are loved. TWLOHA is a national non-profit dedicated to
suicide prevention, stemming from a story about one girl who struggled with depression and addiction. A group of friends helped her, and their love was soon seen across the globe, more and more people joining their cause to fight depression. On this facebook event page, anyway, were two people that went by the names Zach and Tracey. For the past three hours, Zach and Tracey have been telling me that TWLOHA is a terrible organization, saying that simply writing “LOVE” on your arm would not accomplish anything. We went back and forth for what seemed like all afternoon, going on until the sun was down. I kept telling them how wrong they were, how To Write Love on Her Arms was an amazing organization, and how they should not be hating on it. They kept telling me that saying and doing are two different things. As much as I thought it was wrong that they were talking poorly about TWLOHA, I did want to step up and do more, and I was determined other people wanted to do the same.
Finally, someone had my back, a girl from Michigan named Kayla. Thank god, I was starting to think I was literally the only person who believed in TWLOHA and their cause. However, very much unlike me, Kayla said that arguing with people on the internet was a waste of time. After pulling out what felt like every hair in my head, I sent Kayla a message, saying we should team up and prove Zach and Tracey wrong. When she said yes, I felt like I had just created a faction that would rival those two for a while. We created the facebook group, “Doing more than writing ‘Love’ on my arm,” with the intent of doing something actively to help people who were struggling with depression or suicide.
So Kayla and I made a group. We invited some people, and I never will admit it, not even to my closest friends, but it was a complete failure. It had maybe 50 people in it. We wanted to do something, but never had the motivation to make the group move. So, I sat on facebook, proud of what I did, even though it was a small group. I did some more research on suicide prevention, finding my home state, South Dakota, had the highest suicide rate in the country on the World Health Organization website. I also found out someone dies from suicide every 17 minutes. I immediately thought about why I was so passionate about this. I had known people who struggled with suicide and depression. Even then, it didn’t stop at knowing people. Since the death of a close friend two years prior, I had dealt with feelings of depression. Even with that, I was also only, like, 16 or something at this point in time. What can a 16 year old do about anything? I knew how effective it was for people to be reached out to when they are in need, I had been that help for people before, as people had been there for me. Some of my closest friends, their family members, it seemed everyone was struggling just to stay alive. Unfortunately, at this point in time, this facebook group was just an idea. It was two high school kids who wanted to make their mark, grown to fifty high school kids who wanted to create a movement.
I slammed my computer shut, satisfied that I showed Zach and Tracey up. I then left the group alone for a solid ten months, occasionally looking at the group, but just forgetting about it, remembering exactly what Zach and Tracey said, saying is one thing, doing is another.
Those words haunted me until January 1st, 2010.
I woke up and stretched my arms. It had been a long night. I turned on the water to the shower, feeling it and twisting the knob a hundred times until the temperature was at least partially acceptable. Trying to think through my pounding head, I was a little disappointed that I had not thought of a New Year’s resolution. I got out of the shower. I don’t know what happened at this point, whether God struck me with an idea or it was pure coincidence, I will never know. What I do know is that I was for some reason as I did my daily facebook creeping, finding out what everyone else had planned for their resolution, I was urged to check on this facebook group and remember the things I had wanted to accomplish. As of the past week, the group grew from 50 people, to a little over 1,000. I had found my new year’s resolution, and I knew immediately that something was going to come from this. I sent Kayla a message on facebook. She was in, again. I wish Kayla and I had communicated more between the time the group was made and New Years. Even though our contact is distant, it is substantial. I am so grateful to call her a friend. It is hard to explain, but a bond created over the internet because of such a serious issue does more than create business partners, it creates a friendship that stays stronger than the ones most people have in the real world.
“Promise me something,” I said to her, “Promise me that this will be more than a dream, this time.”
She promised, and that was the start of that. It was go time.
I messaged every member of the group, asking them to tell their friends about it and then formed the exact idea of what I was going to do with the facebook group. Each month, I would post 4 goals. These goals would be sent out to all members of the group, and would be pointed at helping someone either directly or indirectly that was suffering with depression or addiction. This went on for the months of January and February, when a girl by the name of Shiloh told me I should turn this into an event for FCCLA, or Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America. I did, and presented “Doing More” at the South Dakota state level for FCCLA, winning 1st place and being asked to speak about the group at the national level.
I went on to the national level. At this point, “Doing More” had nearly 3,600 members in the group completing the goals each month. If you take 3,600 and multiply it by 4 goals, that is 14,400 people that are affected by the group (potentially) each month. The goals went on until July of 2010, which is when Nationals was, making the total number of people affected up to 86,400. “Doing More” snagged first place at nationals as well, and this was the inspiration for me to turn this facebook group into something more.
There is this guy I know called the State’s Attorney that I go to when I need legal advice, or money because I am also a broke college student. I call him Dad, and he is the best father I could ask for. In a matter of weeks, I had something to work with.
It wasn’t until September that all the paperwork including the Articles of Incorporation and the Constitution were actually filled out, but “Doing More” had a name change, and is now known as “Lost and Found.” Kayla and I had sat down for another afternoon, about as long as we sat there arguing with those two kids on facebook nearly a year ago. The name just came to us, a play on words.
In September, Lost and Found was recognized as a non-profit organization thanks to the help of my father. Since then, it has grabbed quite a bit of attention for the media, and I have made public speaking into a part-time job. We have people interested in Lost and Found from coast to coast, a school in New York even wanting to start their own Lost and Found group to donate to the national headquarters. Our bank account was a little red box sitting in our treasurer’s room. Kayla and I had to recruit some people to help us with this. According to the paperwork my dad wrote up for us, we needed a “board of directors. Our little red box didn’t have much, but it was a start, and we were convinced that good things continue to grow. We worked hard. And we had finally made it.
The board of directors decided that Lost and Found’s direct philanthropy donates to two specific things. One: money raised by Lost and Found will go to family’s that are dealing with a loved one who either attempted or committed suicide. In these hard times, the last thing people should have to worry about is medical or funeral expenses. The second is to help colleges continue to provide free counseling or medication to students that are dealing with depression. MIT has the highest suicide rate out of any university in the country, and if we could help them with their counseling center, that would be amazing for the students struggling.
Today, I still work with this thing. I call it a “thing” because I have no idea what it is yet. It started as an argument. Then it was a school project thanks to that girl named Shiloh. I still owe her a thank you. Who would have known it would grow into such an amazing organization?
This has grown bigger than I had first imagined, and like I said, I don’t see us slowing down any time soon. Lost and Found is seen on quite a few college campuses and high schools. Lost and Found will continue to grow and continue to have an effect on not only the United States, but the world. If we can make the difference in one person or one family’s life, then we have already accomplished our goal. If we can help more, then nothing is going to stop us from doing so, because we legitimately care about what is happening and we are determined to change this huge issue.
If we are the ones that need to step up to the plate and tackle this problem, then who is going to stop us? Kirsty Spraggon said that the magic recipe to living out your boldest dreams is simply a pinch of delusion, a dash of audacity, and a shot of courage. Maybe we are delusional for thinking on such a large scale, overconfident in success, and blind with courage, but it hasn’t stopped us yet.