Julia Hansen passes by Lincoln Park full of hope that the tulips will be up for Sunday’s Yellow Tulip Hope Day. Hansen, a senior at Casco Bay High School, helped plant 700 tulips in the Portland park as part of her Yellow Tulip Project, which she began two years ago after two of her best friends committed suicide.

Yellow was one friend’s favorite color, and tulips were the other friend’s favorite flower.

Sunday’s gathering at Lincoln Park, from 10 to 11:30 a.m., is meant to be a time for celebration with music, wellness activities and a message of hope for those who are struggling with suicidal tendencies. Hansen hopes Hope Day – with a related photography exhibition at Speedwell Projects – creates an atmosphere where people feel comfortable talking about mental illness so they also feel less alone, less ashamed and more comfortable to “come out,” Hansen said.

“It’s meant to be a fun, hopeful day and to say it’s OK to not be OK.”

The tragedy of losing two friends to suicide while she was a student at the Waynflete School prompted Hansen to try to counteract the stigma of mental illness. Her friends’ deaths reordered her world and made her look at things from a different perspective. “I started to see the good that comes out of darkness,” she said. “Even in the darkest of places, there is hope.”

Hansen also chose the tulip as the symbol for her project because the flower muscles its way up from the recently frozen earth and bursts through the surface with energetic colors.

Hansen and her mother, Suzanne Fox, have spread their message across Maine and around the country. More than 60 schools and community groups from Maine to Virginia have planted gardens, and mother and daughter drove together to Van Buren in Aroostook County last fall so Hansen could speak to students there about the project. Fox said she was proud of and impressed by her daughter’s efforts.

“A single spark can start a fire,” she said. “This is catching on and changing people’s lives. It’s very accessible, and the message is simple and clear: There’s help and there’s hope.”

Danielle Berube, who teaches eighth grade at the Van Buren District School, said the idea of a Hope Garden appealed to her because it’s a straightforward project with a big impact. They planted their garden in a spot where kids and staff can go for quiet and comfort. The tulips are just starting to bloom and will spell out “HOPE” when they do, Berube said. In addition, students and faculty were invited to plant other flowers of their choice throughout the garden.

Berube said her daughter planted a rose for a friend who committed suicide.

“This is a place where students can go for peace and a bright future,” she said.

In addition to Sunday’s Hope Day, Hansen also has organized a photography exhibition, on view at Speedwell Projects through May 12. “I Am More: Facing Stigma” includes portraits of local people who are living with mental illness by photographer Lissy Thomas. The Yellow Tulip Project issued a call for subjects for the exhibition, and many people responded.

The intent of the black-and-white exhibition is to give a face to mental illness in the community and help people understand that it touches all kinds of people. All the activities are part of Mental Health Awareness Month, Hansen said.

Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: pphbkeyes


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