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Inspired youth: Bridges of Hope creator has big plans for 2020

'I knew absolutely nothing about creating something like Bridges of Hope, but we knew why we wanted to create it and that was enough,' said Oliva Miller
Olivia Miller
Oliva Miller from Bridges of Hope (supplied photo)

You’re worth more than you think. You’re someone’s reason to smile. Your life matters. You are not alone.

The Bridges of Hope (BoH) team attach uplifting and positive messages to three frequently traveled bridges within the Waterloo Region area. “We believe that by doing this, we can positively affect the lives of many in our community, especially those who need encouragement the most,” says Olivia Miller, Director of The Bridges of Hope Project.

“My co-founder and friend, Gretta Dotzert, sent me an article about a teen named Paige Hunter from Sunderland, UK who attached positive messages to a frequently travelled bridge and ended up preventing 12 suicides. We wanted to apply this idea to the region to focus mainly on raising awareness and give a voice to a silent issue that effects so many.”

According to their website, Bridges of Hope is a project focused on spreading positivity and raising mental health awareness. Miller and Dotzert, who were in high school when they created the movement, say they started BoH as a response to the struggling they saw in so many of their peers. “We wanted to share positivity and optimism in a simple way,” said Miller.

They asked members of the community to send positive messages that were then attached to bridges in the region. During the ceremonies they hosted speakers who shared their mental health journeys. “I have also represented our movement in ambassador positions and I have spoken at many different community events,” says Miller.

“I have struggled with anxiety, mild depression and OCD throughout different seasons of my life. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t think as deeply as I do and I think it has had its pros and cons,” she says. “I love being able to experience compassion and purpose so strongly, but of course there is a flip-side to that. I take everyone’s opinions to heart and as a highly-sensitive individual, I tend to pick up on energy as well. My biggest job is finding a balance that suits how I feel in each season of my life. This balance changes often and it takes diligent self-awareness and the help from a therapist to continue thriving.”

While attending a Positive Psychology conference at the University of Toronto, Miller would meet her future employer, Dr. Jen Forristal, founder of a local company called The Umbrella Project. “The Umbrella Project is a classroom curriculum that teaches kids how to use skills such as resilience and gratitude to build their umbrellas to help get through rainy times,” said Miller. “I’m looking forward to representing them as an outreach speaker in future projects.”

Last December, Miller also created a network of international advocates. “So many individuals are making change and need supporters to help amplify their efforts. The group is now around 35 members, from Australia to Italy and within North America. We share important news and initiatives that we have created ourselves such as Teen Talk Hotline, Gift of Life Project and the Girl Up Campaign.”

When asked about the moments that keep her motivated, she says it’s the complete strangers who share their stories, and offer support, that solidify the impact her actions have had. “It has been incredible. I have been left speechless by the support that our small BoH community has offered each other,” she says. During events she says she often takes a moment to observe the crowd, to digest how impactful it is to be a part of something bigger than herself. “The ripple effect of this project has been incredible. I have learned so much about myself and what and who I want to be in the future from the people that I’ve met.”

Her advice to someone looking for the courage to start a positive movement? “Begin before you’re ready,” she says. One of my favourite experts, Angie Lee, talks about how ready is a lie because there are many aspects that you can’t predict ahead of time. I knew absolutely nothing about creating something like Bridges of Hope, but we knew why we wanted to create it and that was enough. It’s okay to reach out for help from others and to mess up along the way.”

Miller says 2020 plans for BoH are currently in the works. “I will be speaking at Cameron Heights Collegiate for their mental health assembly in March and will be discussing wellbeing at the Women’s Institute of Waterloo’s Women’s Day event in April.”

Bridges of Hope campaigns for awareness on social media can be found on Instagram Twitter and Facebook.

In the words of inspirational author, Shannon L. Alder, “never give up on someone with a mental illness. When ‘I’ is replaced by ‘we’ illness becomes wellness.”

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