It was a dark and stormy night; and then what happened? For those who have struggled with mental illness, addiction, or self-harm, Project Semicolon, a Wisconsin founded non-profit, helps them write and now, tell, the rest of their story. Both social movement and non-profit, the project states the obvious to some; the not so obvious for those whose vision is clouded about their future. “Hope is Alive” is the byline for this genuine article homegrown seemingly overnight sensation.
A semicolon, for writers, signifies a sentence that could have ended, but the author chose not to… “Your life is the sentence; you are the author,” according to Project Semicolon founder, Amy Bleuel, of Green Bay.
What is Project Semicolon? Both non-profit and social movement, the mission of Project Semicolon, a faith-based movement, dedicated to presenting hope and love for those struggling with depression, suicide, addiction and self-injury. Project Semicolon exists to encourage, love and inspire. The tag line is “Stay strong, love endlessly, change lives”.
The vision of the project is to achieve lower suicide rates, start a conversation about suicide, mental illness and addiction that can’t be stopped; declare hope is alive; create a society that openly addresses the struggle; have a conversation embraced by churches.
In an interview with Amy Bleuel, Founder and President of Project Semicolon, she shared her struggle with mental health issues, a traumatic childhood, and losing her father to suicide in 2003. She began the project in 2013. It is both a social movement and a nonprofit organization whose ultimate goal is to educate and spread awareness about issues like the ones Bleuel has faced.
What is the history of project Semicolon? (reprinted with permission from Project Semicolon)
“This began in the spring of 2013, when Project Semicolon Founder, Amy Bleuel wanted to honor her father whom she lost to suicide. Through the semicolon symbol many related to the struggle of depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide and their will to continue on. The title, “Project Semicolon,” also represented a goal – to believe that this is not the end but a new beginning.
As the days passed and the project was developed further, it became clear that this symbol was not just about one person. We heard from people longing to continue their story and live a life that would inspire others to continue on as well.
Through musician support and social media, the message of hope and love has reached a big audience in many different countries, more than we could have ever anticipated. It is estimated that over three million people worldwide have been reached. Project Semicolon is honored to be a part of those continuing stories, and to be an inspiration to those who are struggling.”
“Nonprofits embody the best spirit and values of our nation. Theyturn our beliefs into action – as promoters of democracy, champions of the common good, incubators of innovation, laboratories of leadership, protectors of taxpayers, responders in times of trouble, stimulators of the economy, and weavers of community fabric. You would be hard pressed to find anyone who has not been touched in some way by a nonprofit organization, whether they knew it or not.” —National Council of Nonprofits, 2014
Why Faith Based?
“When the foundation of this project was created those involved reflected on what got them to where they are today. The answer was clear that it was the love of Christ. As we set forth in the project, we committed to loving with a Christ-like love those who are struggling. We inspire others through the very thing that brought us to continuance in our own stories. This by no means excludes any other beliefs or religions, as we accept them all.”
“A semicolon represents a sentence the author could have ended, but chose not to.
The sentence is your life and the author is you.” —Project Semicolon
Project Semicolon was founded on April 16, 2013 and states on their website they are not associated with The Semicolon Tattoo Project. The tattoos have gone viral on social media, but they are not necessary to be part of the movement. Over a million people are estimated to have the tattoos now.
In an interview with ABC, Bleuel said, “We never suggest the tattoos…you don’t have to be part of [Project Semicolon] to get the tattoo [or vice versa]
Project Semicolon initiated people drawing the punctuation of the semicolon rather than tattooing them, but the subsequent huge following chose to permanently mark their stories’ new beginning.
Tattoo shops in Oshkosh report a definite rise in requests for semicolon depictions, since the Project Semicolon story broke on social media and major news networks in recent weeks. T.J. at Good Girl Tattoo and Piercing reported about a half dozen or so in the last year, most of which were recent. John at Big Guns reported that there had been approximately 10 in the last year, most of which were in the last 3 weeks. And, he added “they were tattoo virgins or newbies,” having no other tattoos. He says they are a quick 10 or 15 minutes and cost approximately $50.
Steve, at 920 Tattoo on Main Street, said they had at least a dozen requests in the last few weeks. They work primarily on large tattoos. He says there have always been social awareness symbols such as the ribbons for cancer survivors and that tattoos are definitely conversations starters.
While it might be perceived this is a social media fad, Project Semicolon has become a global awareness movement. According to an early July post on Buzzfeed, a U.K. website, their top post got 559,998 views. They quote Bleuel, “From the start the project was a huge success…it is credited to a good friend of mine who wishes to not be named. He is a genius when it comes to networking. In the recent weeks the feeling of: ‘Wow we are on to something’ really started to hit me. To have so many countries involved and supporting is amazing. It is a humbling experience.”
While mainstream media and celebrities have given widespread exposure to the project, funding continues to be a struggle as the non-profit still awaits non-profit status, according to Amanda Mayfield, also known as Mrs. Wisconsin Beauty Plus pageant winner. Amanda is competing this fall for the Mrs. USA Beauties Plus title, and her platform is domestic violence. She is also organizing a Project Semicolon Fashion and Vendor Show event in Sturtevant, Wisconsin. August 23, at 5pm in Fountains Hall, 8505 Durand Ave. Ticket sales go to fund the project and vendors are donating raffle items. Get your tickets now! Go to Projectsemicolon.com under Events for details. Evenbrite is the place to purchase tickets online.
Amy Bleuel is also available as an inspirational speaker for schools, universities, civic organizations and corporate events. Her inspirational message and continuation of her story encourages millions to continue theirs. Contact via the Project Semicolon website.
…and then what happened? Our story isn’t over;
Lori Palmeri is an urban consultant, creative re-maker, and resident of central Oshkosh. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org