BATH — Jamie Dorr’s mission is to bring hope to the Midcoast community, and with the help of some students, she planted that intention Nov. 16 in a heart-shaped garden in the parking lot corner of Morse High School’s lawn.

Each yellow tulip bulb was mulched with a tiny handwritten note with messages like:

“You matter.”

“You are not alone.”

“Hang on.”

That’s because less than half of high school students in Sagadahoc County feel like they matter to people in their community.

One in five have considered suicide in the past year.

The results, taken from the 2015 Maine Youth Mental Health Survey, an annual survey that gathers anonymous statistics from area schools, are troublesome. Especially considering that the Bath community has seen nine deaths by suicide in the past five years, some of which were young people, according to Bath Police Chief Mike Field..

All of those deaths were shocks to the tight-knit community in Bath. Many were students. Others, in addition to being young, were popular in local organizations, volunteering their time at places like the Bath Area Family YMCA and Bath Youth Meetinghouse and Skate Park.

Dorr, who is also president of the Skate Park board, says, “I don’t want to lose anymore.”

The garden is the latest enterprise undertaken by Midcoast Community Alliance, a network of businesses, nonprofits, and community members, Dorr brought together to “empower the Midcoast community to be healthy, engaged, and resilient by promoting mental health awareness and understanding, advocating for those in need, and by expanding access to support.”

That’s a big vision that shines its light specifically on the problem of suicide.

Caitlyn Belanger, a Morse senior, was friends with one of the kids who took his own life in 2016. “His suicide really impacted how I feel about really being there for people when they need it. His suicide inspired me – I know that sounds kind of funny – to want to do things like this.”

The goal of Midcoast Community Alliance is for Bath and it’s surrounding areas to become suicide-free communities.

“We’re letting everyone know that there’s nothing to be ashamed of, and that we’re here for that specific purpose to help people and connect people. We want to break down the stigma and start a conversation and connect people with hope and resources,” Dorr said.

Three hundred yellow tulip bulbs donated by the Bath Sunrise Rotary waited in a white laundry basket for Dorr and her helpers to nestle into the wet ground last Thursday. MCA asked for 100 bulbs; the Rotary tripled it.

“Our club was very happy to be able to donate the bulbs and look forward to seeing them come up in the spring,” said Carol Fleming, the club’s president-elect.

Each bulb was accompanied by messages of hope penned by members of Morse’s Interact Club and Jobs for Maine Graduates students. That was Morse guidance Counselor Leslie Trundy’s idea.

“I am a big believer in intention. Since the bulbs were planted with the idea of encouraging hope even in hard times, I wanted to plant hopeful messages as intentions. I wrote out a message that ‘the night is darkest before the dawn,’” she said.

“I am excited about the spring and grateful to Jamie and Sunrise for planting some love on Morse’s lawn,” she added.

The garden is inspired by the Yellow Tulip Project, started by Julia Hansen, a student at Casco Bay High School in Portland, who lost two of her best friends to suicide within six months of each other.

“All around the state,” Dorr explained, “People have started these Hope Gardens.”

Juniors Robbie Creamer and Ahmad Moore joined her in the rain, along with JMG coordinator Maria Morris. The ground was prepared in advance by the facilities department of Regional School Unit 1, with a little extra help from Dorr’s husband, Mike.

“Suicide shouldn’t be something people have to go through,” Moore said, wiping rain from his face. “I hope this gives people who are depressed hope … let them know people care about them.”
For more information on Midcoast Community Alliance, visit www.mcamaine.org. The Maine Crisis Hotline is 888-568-1112; National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-8255.

Reporter Chris Chase contributed to this story.