In just one day, 17-year-old Nicole Leth went from an eager high school student anticipating graduation to a grief-stricken, confused teenager mourning the death of her father.
Leth, now 26, has spent nearly a decade navigating a hard road of grief and healing, and has emerged determined to make a positive difference in the world.
The artist and writer living in Kansas City, Missouri, is using public billboards as a way to encourage and affirm people in her community.
“I’m trying to make a difference in the world, in our communities, and in the hearts of people hurting — one billboard at a time,” Leth wrote on her Patreon crowdfunding platform.
The pink billboard displays four short sentences that Leth hopes will empower people to persevere through hard times, feel encouraged, and may even prevent suicide:
“You are human. You are loveable. You are strong. You are enough.”
Nicole Leth rented the billboard in honor of her father, Richard, who died by suicide when she was 17 years old. https://t.co/RhsPr6NefT
— KVOA News 4 Tucson (@KVOA) August 13, 2019
The suicide of her father, Richard, was the catalyst for Leah’s affirming work, which she first explored through her creativity in art and literature.
“It launched me on this trajectory of wanting to do things that matter to people and have positive output to what I created with my artwork and writing,” Leth told TODAY.
“I realized over the years I could never save someone’s life for them, but I could create an encouraging and affirmative space to empower them to save their own life.”
Reaching out to those contemplating suicide with a message of love and hope….that is the mission of 26-year-old Nicole Leth after losing her own father to suicide.
— Keleigh Gibbs (@KGibbsKMBC) July 30, 2019
Leth, who saved up the money to run her first billboard for one month, had been fundraising to keep the billboard up and running in Kansas City.
Since her billboard’s design has gone viral, Leth said the owner of the billboard contacted her with a generous offer to keep the billboard running free of charge for “the foreseeable future.”
Encouraged, Leth has sent her artwork on to others, who plan to place similar billboards in their own cities in Canada, Florida, Iowa, Missouri and Texas.
Already, the billboard’s message has proven to be helpful and welcome in her community.
“The reaction has been unbelievable and heartfelt and overwhelmingly positive,” Leth said.
“I have been receiving lots of emails from people who said it mattered, or they saw it and had a terrible day and didn’t think they could survive, and without knowing the story of the billboard, they said it let them live one more day.”
Leth knows her father would love the work she is doing.
“He truly had the same heart as me and he always felt things so intensely. We’d always go on these cross country road trips and have the deepest conversations about life and people and love,” she said. “He was the first person who taught me how to make beauty out of hard things.”
“There are a lot of people hurting in the world right now, and I hope that this makes a difference, even if just a little bit,” she wrote on Patreon. “The greatest, wholehearted transformations start first with radical healing and acceptance of what is.”
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