In Ava’s own words:
Peyton Heart Project Ambassador Essay: By Ava Hill
I was bullied in elementary school for being overweight and, shall we say, eccentrically dressed. Despite the snide comments and exclusion, I knew who I was. I was confident, unique, and my own definition of beautiful. Unfortunately, the positive view that I had about myself began to change as I got into high school. My freshman year of high school I had posted a wonderfully edited selfie, as we all did at that time, and was struck with a comment that still resonates with me. The words “your so ugly” illuminated in my newsfeed. It mainly resonates because of the horrific use of grammar, but as a fourteen-year-old girl who had worked hard to lose weight and discovered contacts, it was devastating. I had always struggled with my image and identity. I fell into a destructive mindset believing that I was never enough. I was never pretty enough, skinny enough, smart enough, or good enough. I became the bully to myself.
I had high hopes for college. It was a fresh start full of new opportunities and I couldn’t wait. Unfortunately, I had a high school companion that had followed me to college and quickly became a malicious presence. I had terminated the relationship and this individual was reluctant to accept the circumstances. He followed my car, stalked my social media, and was constantly trying to get in contact with me. Me refusing to respond only further ignited the fire. My social media and cellphone became a war zone.
Every day I was struck with voicemails and messages that acted as bullets firing at me from the screen. There seemed to be no escape because it followed me everywhere I went.
To escape reality, I began abusing drugs and alcohol. I didn’t know who I was anymore, I had no sense of identity and no sense of my worth. Along with abusing my self with drugs and alcohol I began self harming. I could no longer get out of bed, I couldn’t go to class, all I could do was stare at my phone reading the endless amounts of messages from people I didn’t even know telling me how worthless I was and that I should kill myself.
In September of 2015 I woke up on a park bench on campus after attempting to take my own life. I knew I was given a second chance and I wasn’t going to waste it. I have dedicated my life since then to the Miss North Dakota Organization, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and now The Peyton Heart Project to tell my story and to help prevent suicide.
I heard about Peyton Heart Project from a friend of mine, Sarah Dukart, who is another pageant title holder in North Dakota. She invited me to scatter hears in Downtown Fargo and I instantly fell in love. Immediately after scattering those hearts I went home and attempted to make my own (which didn’t go well, they resembled snowballs rather than hearts) I ended up make 100 hearts on my own and wanted to make more.
I hosted a Peyton Heart event in my hometown of Kindred, North Dakota where we made over 300 hearts for the project. My community has been struck with many tragedies, suicide being the most prevalent. Hosting this event brought hope to my community and inspired many to get involved by making their own hearts at home to send after the event. Since this event I have been able to send a total of 500 hearts.
The Peyton Heart Project has opened my eyes to the power of kindness and how so many people long for it. Each heart I’ve made is a reminder that despite my mistakes, guilt, and past I can still make a difference and share kindness with the world. Being an ambassador for this organization would allow me to become further involved and to spread light to others.
Through my platform, Beyond Measure: The Power to Prevent Suicide, I speak about my personal story and suicide prevention around the state of North Dakota. Along with my presentation I bring Peyton Hearts to scatter around the small town communities and to hand out at events. I plan to continue doing this at events and speaking engagements along with bringing them to schools and the Children’s Hospital. I am planning on hosting a Valentine’s Day heart making event in Fargo, North Dakota, smaller events in my hometown of kindred, and one in Bismarck, North Dakota. My hope is to cover the state of North Dakota with hearts with the help of my family, community and The Peyton Heart Project.