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Former West Islip student: Support your peers, spread positive messages

Brooke DiPalma, 22, founded P.S. I Love You Day nine years ago after her father, Joseph DiPalma, committed suicide. She was in the eighth grade when she lost her father.

Brooke DiPalma, the founder of P.S. I Love You Day, brought the day's sentiments to Babylon on Friday, Feb. 8, 2019.  (Credit: News 12 Long Island)

Students at Robert Moses Middle School on Friday left positive messages taped to lockers, and hallways and classrooms were draped in purple hearts, as the school joined nearly 170 educational institutions nationwide in a mental health campaign launched by a former West Islip student.

Brooke DiPalma, 22, founded P.S. I Love You Day nine years ago after her father, Joseph DiPalma, committed suicide. She was in the eighth grade at the time. On Friday, she told her story to a packed assembly of students at the North Babylon school that enrolls grades six through eight.

“You guys are the reason I am here, and you guys are the reason I am OK,” she said.

About 100 Long Island schools and organizations around the state took part in the program, which raises awareness on mental health and preventing suicide and bullying. The day is named in honor of Joseph DiPalma's final words to his daughter and is observed on the second Friday of each February.

Students, staff and supporters wore purple as a reminder that support is available.

DiPalma told students about the importance of supporting their peers, spreading positive messages and reminding them they are loved and never alone. Following her presentation, she was presented with a proclamation by local officials acknowledging the significance of the day and the impact she has had on students.

"I created P.S. I Love You Day — it is really a story not of tragedy, it is a story of resilience," she said. "Resilience means you take something bad and turn it around to something good."

Eighth-grade student Naya Pierce, 13, painted purple hearts on her cheeks and wore a purple T-shirt.

"Many people feel that they don’t have a place in this world … they may not have friends," Pierce said. "We want them to know on P.S. I Love You Day that they are important and that they have a place."

Jaimie DiPalma, Brooke's sister and a teacher in the Sachem school district, said participation in the event has grown to schools in Colorado, Florida, Illinois and Virginia. Libraries and businesses also joined in. 

H. Frank Carey High School in Franklin Square participated in the program for the first time this year. Teachers devoted each school period to topics such as kindness and dealing with depression. Hallways and classrooms in grades seven to 12 were decorated in purple.

In addition, the school teamed with Dan's Plan, an organization that's also spreading suicide prevention awareness. It was founded in honor of Dan Babich, a 2008 graduate who took his own life.

"We want to let everyone know how important this is and how important it is letting people know that this is a safe space," said Sharon Flynn, H. Frank Carey's assistant principal.

New York is the first state in the nation to require mental health education as a component of health education. The law, which went into effect July 1, requires schools — at all levels — to include mental health as part of their physical health instruction.

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