In late 2010, junior Brooke DiPalma was at a point in her life where she had to make a decision. She could either continue grieving over the loss of her father due to suicide, or she could use those emotions to change the lives of others.
Brooke was in the ninth grade when she started a unique initiative called “PS I Love You Day.” “I was really upset one night thinking about everything that happened,” she explained. “I was thinking about relationships that people at school had with each other and the friends my dad had. I hated the stigma that came with suicide, especially when people say ‘I’ll kill myself’ so lightheartedly.”
When Brooke’s father died, she felt like she was “walking around with a mask on.” People didn’t know how to approach her, and she felt uncomfortable with her story.
Brooke, who was 14 at the time, thought about her current situation and of the last few words that her father said to her before his passing. “I decided to use those words to change the way people look at suicide and mental health,” she said. “I wanted people to wear one color to symbolize togetherness. Even if you’re not friends with someone—you believe in the same thing.”
Brooke decided to formally organize PS I Love You Day, and the inaugural event was held on Feb. 11, 2011. “It was the most amazing day,” she said. “We made something spectacular out of something so bad.”She gathered 472 students in her school auditorium to tell her story. “I told myself that if I change one life in that auditorium, my dad’s legacy would live on forever,” she said.
Brooke’s high school friend, Caitlin, told her something that still resonates with her to this day. “She said, ‘Tragedy should not be the force for togetherness. Togetherness should be the force that ends tragedies,’” DiPalma recalled.
When Brooke’s father passed away, “everyone” came out in support for her. “It was insane the amount of love I felt in that moment,” she said. “I wanted to feel that again and not be so uncomfortable.”
Brooke made PS I Love You Day into a non-profit organization filed under New York State. In the spring of 2011, Brooke’s guidance counselor recommended her for a scholarship with the Nassau County Memorial and Tolerance Center where she was able to speak at an anti-bullying conference. By telling her story, she “simply hoped” that kids would be informed about the topic, bring back awareness to their school, and maybe celebrate PS I Love You Day at their respective schools.
On Jan. 2, 2012, Brooke sent out a video to local media organizations about her organization, and three of them featured her, highlighting PS I Love You Day. From there, Brooke realized her idea could turn into something, so she continued to keep close relationships with local schools. By the time she was a junior in high school, “so many” schools wanted to participate and it took off. She saw the potential for it to spread nationally.
When Brooke first started PS I Love You Day, she said it was “simply about raising awareness, not money.” However, in November 2015, PS I Love You Day officially became a non-profit organization. It is a big supporter of the Long Island Crisis Center and collects donations by selling T-shirts.
With the enormous amount of fundraising success, PS I Love You Day was able to start a scholarship fund within Brooke’s high school where it all began. This year, it is expanding and reaching out to one more school. Brooke hopes it will be a “substantial” amount.
The scholarship is awarded to a student dedicated to making a change. The inspiration for this scholarship came from Brooke’s father. “When I was little, my dad asked why I would do so much community service without acknowledgment,” she said. “I told him that it was because I loved doing it with him, and making a change.”
“If you have an idea, go for it,” she said. “If no one believed that PS I Love You Day was something, it wouldn’t have happened.”