When Sam Shrodes saw her classmates grieving over the deaths of two students in less than a week, she decided to do something to lift morale at Brunswick High School.
She had no idea she would inspire students, the community and that it would evolve into a viral YouTube video.
Freshman Matthew Homyk, 14, was found dead on Jan. 10. Three days later, senior Anthony Gill died. Police said both deaths are being investigated as suicides.
After Matthew died, Sam, a 15-year-old sophomore, tried to find a way to be supportive for her friends.
“Everyone was so sad and depressed, I wanted to do something,” she said.
She went to her mother and asked if she could get Post-it notes. She planned on leaving notes on the lockers of every freshman at the end of the school day. But when she went to school Jan. 14, students were just learning about Gill’s death.
“When we found out about Anthony, we knew we had to put notes on all the lockers in the school,” she said.
Sam’s mother Kate Shrodes secured a donation of Post-It notes from Staples in Medina, and Shrodes and a handful of students who were at the school after classes ended. Together they wrote and posted the notes on all 2,500 lockers at Brunswick High school.
“We started off with three phrases, they said ‘you are loved,’ ‘you matter’ and ‘you are important,’ “ Shrodes said.
But students wrote even more creative messages of support.
Sam said it didn’t matter what the message said, as long as it was supportive and encouraging.
“We wanted people to know they don’t have to stick to the status quo,” she said. “They can be who they are and be proud of it.”
The next day, students were surprised by the messages. Sam had wanted to keep the identity of the posters secret, but word got around that the project was her idea. Her Facebook page was flooded with messages of gratitude and she received a card on Valentine’s Day from a friend of Anthony Gill’s, thanking her for her efforts..
“That really meant a lot to me,” Shrodes said.
The Post-it notes were such a popular idea that students at Brunswick Middle schools got together to cover their lockers with positive messages, too. A new high school group officially formed — Project You Are Loved.
“I think we all really wanted to be a part of something like this,” she said. The students decided to expand their message by creating a film for students to share on social media.
Kate Schrodes talked to her friend and film-maker Zebulon Thomas about creating a short film to remind students they have a support system at the school.
Thomas, a fellow Brunswick parent, agreed to help make the film, and though he normally charges about $10,000 for a film this size, he agreed to do the project for free.
“I went to Brunswick High school, and I just really love my hometown,” he said. “I thought this would be a great way to make Brunswick better.”
On Feb. 8, Sam and other students gathered at the high school and spent an entire Saturday filming. Thomas brought an entire crew and cameras, but said the video they created was a collaborative process between him and the students.
“We worked so well together,” he said.
Thomas said his daughter Haley, 15, is a freshman at the school and knew one of the students who died last month.
“The whole community really took a hit,” he said. “I thought this could help bring more light to the school and bring some light to those who were lost.”
The video depicts students sharing supportive messages on Post-it notes and singing and dancing to “Brave” by Sara Bareilles. It also depicts two bullying scenes, including a student getting pushed down and a girl putting down another student’s hairstyle in a text message.
Sam said she hopes the video reaches students who have been hurt by bullies, but she also hopes the video makes bullies think about their actions.
“Bullies don’t just become bullies on their own,” she said. “They have a story, too. Something makes them feel like they should bully other people.”
Sam said she’s not sure what the next big thing Project You Are Loved plans to roll out, but she said the momentum and positivity will definitely keep the students going on their mission to provide love and support to fellow students.
“Bullying is a problem in every high school, it’s unavoidable,” she said. “Sometimes when you are bullied, you start to believe the things they say, you need someone else to build you back up.”
Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or firstname.lastname@example.org.