**After launching our World Suicide Prevention Day / National Suicide Prevention Week campaign, we came across the organizations You Can NOT Be Replaced ® . You Can NOT Be Replaced, a charitable organization located in Manasquan, NJ, is the owner of the trademark YOU CAN NOT BE REPLACED ® . You Can NOT Be Replaced ® grew out of a desire to inspire the youth in their area, where there have been several student suicides. You can learn more about You Can NOT Be Replaced ® at www.youcannotbereplaced.com. Emily Dayton, whose family founded You Can NOT Be Replaced ®, shared here how this work has impacted her community for the better.
I live in Monmouth County, New Jersey, which is now home to the largest suicide cluster in the country. I’m only 20 years old, but my community and I have experienced 14 suicides in six years. Seven of those deaths were of students from my high school.
It was the end of my freshman year when the first boy took his life. Then, like a waterfall, it seemed like it was just one after another. By the time I was a senior, there had been six deaths by suicide. Each time, a stream of questions would run through my mind. How? Why?
There really weren’t any answers, because there is almost no explanation for what we all lived through. It changed how I saw my family, my friends, my choices, and myself.
After I graduated high school, our small shore towns had finally gone a year and a half without a death. We all started to heal and move forward. Then, in the middle of my freshman year in college, there was another. It was February of 2011, and I came home for the weekend after hearing the news.
I wanted to take action, but how do you take action on something so complex? My parents and I were talking about this at the dinner table one night, and I was extremely frustrated with the unanswered questions.
Then, it hit me. People are so unique in themselves, whether because of their hidden talent, a facial feature, their style, their accomplishments, their dreams. And once that individual is gone, all of those characteristics are gone, too. I thought of the many lives lost and wondered, “Maybe they didn’t realize or no one told them, ‘There is only one you.’” I said out loud, “Don’t they realize they cannot be replaced?”
Soon, we ordered wristbands for the kids at the high school, which read “I Can NOT Be Replaced.” I knew I wanted students to pass them on to others, kind of as an excuse to walk up to someone or a reason to thank them for their friendship. We learned a lot of the boys were having a hard time, but no one had any idea. It was time for people to start reaching out and doing something kind for one another. And it was great to finally have something to work on that could make a difference in our community.
We noticed the teenagers often couldn’t tell us what they were good at, other than sports or music. So we created “character cards” to be used like trading cards, featuring values like “Honesty,” “Generosity,” and “Loyalty.” We wanted them to see these gifts as important and irreplaceable, too.
My parents and I now lead well-received events and school assemblies, and I took the message of “You Can NOT Be Replaced” to my new college, University of Dallas. When Hurricane Sandy hit our town last year and damaged 1,800 homes, we helped by volunteering, running a supply center, and leaving wristbands with homeowners. We were also lucky enough to help with a community family healing day, which collected $100,000 to later be redistributed within the community. Even beyond our county, there are 14,000 wristbands being passed around the country, and we recently sent our first package to the UK. There is nothing like getting an email from someone whose life has been changed by our efforts.
You never know how far a simple act of kindness can go. Just by opening the door for someone, or smiling at a stranger—or giving out a wristband—, you might make someone’s day that much better. You could even change their path. The smallest of kind gestures works, and I think it is sometimes the best answer to questions and problems that are so big. If you can help even just one person remember their value, that’s a gift in itself. I feel very fortunate to be able to reach people and remind them, no matter what, they are loved, they are valuable, and they cannot be replaced.