University of Maine at Farmington students Valerianne Hinkley, right, and Kayla Kalloch, festoon the bathroom walls with notes of affirmation for their classmates during the COVID-19 restrictions in dorms. Jennie Bouchard-Young photo

One late night this week, Valerianne Hinkley went sneaking around the halls of the University of Maine at Farmington like Santa Claus on Christmas morning. 

And like Santa Claus, her wee hour, tip-toe mission through the dark of night was aimed at brightening the lives of others with gifts. 

Hinkley and her roommate, Kayla Kalloch, both students on the campus, had been at work for three hours, creating an array of sticky notes with uplifting messages scrawled on them. 

“You are capable of amazing things,” read one message. 

“Different is beautiful,” declared another. 

“Life is tough but so are you,” advised yet another, and on and on it went until dozens of messages had been scribbled on dozens of paper squares to be posted around the school bathrooms. 

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“I do this project to make sure people know that they aren’t alone,” Hinkley wrote on her blog, “that they are worth it, so they know someone out there cares about them.” 

Mission accomplished, certainly. 

When Hinkley’s classmates awoke the following morning, the humdrum routine of their days was  brightened significantly by the unexpected affirmations that festooned the bathroom walls and mirrors. 

“I wanted to give you guys a huge thumbs-up,” wrote Celia Canavan, admissions ambassador at the school, “and really let you know how sweet that was. You didn’t have to do that, and the fact that you took the time and effort with all you guys are going through right now speaks volumes for your community building and leadership qualities.” 

And don’t be fooled, it isn’t easy being a college student these days. Freshmen who moved into UMF at the start of the week had to stay hunkered down in their dorm rooms full-time with only trips to the bathrooms allowed until their COVID-19 test results were back. 

The pandemic has wrought its usual havoc at the schools, and some would say it has taken the fun out of the college experiences. 

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Hinkley, a Mount Blue High School graduate, and Kalloch, who came to UMF from Skowhegan, were out to do something about that. 

“College students often face a lot of stress, especially during this pandemic we are experiencing a lot more mental health problems,” Hinkley said of the project. “I do it for people like them. I do it for the people who are afraid to come out and say they need help. This gives them a reason to know everything will be OK.” 

For Hinkley, the sticky note campaign wasn’t her first. In 2017, she slapped similar notes on 800 lockers at Mount Blue High School to uplift classmates who were suffering as the target of bullies. 

She also used her own money, raised through a pair of part-time jobs, to purchase and distribute bright blue bracelets and posters bearing the message, Be Bold-Stand Up to Bullying. 

She also held a car wash to help pay for more than 500 bracelets, pens, lanyards and key chains that she distributed to help raise awareness of bullying. 

Then there was the notebook and T-shirt giveaway, the donations to the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital in Portland and the fact that as Miss Teen Maine International in 2018, Hinkley made the concept of bullying a part of her platform. 

She’s not done, either.

“I am planning on putting up sticky notes on every floor of each dorm so there will be more hopefully soon!” she said Friday. “I’ve spent about 11 hours writing out sticky notes this past spring and summer to prepare for this project at UMF. Over the summer I have also painted clothespins with some of the same positive sayings and attached magnets to the backside to put them on cars as well as writing out notes and putting them on flowers to put on people’s cars as well.”

When you get right down to it, it’s possible that Hinkley IS Santa Claus. 

University of Maine at Farmington students Valerianne Hinkley and Kayla Kalloch wrote sticky notes to post in dorms to affirm and encourage others restricted to their dorm rooms while waiting for results of COVID-19 tests. Jennie Bouchard-Young photo


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