The Note Writer: Scott woman scatters uplifting messages around city

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One day last summer, Adam Conkey, a recent Carnegie Mellon University graduate, was walking through Oakland when he spotted her.

The young woman across the street was moving quickly. She taped a white piece of paper to a glass display case, then walked away. Mr. Conkey crossed the street to read it.

The note she left said, "You are most beautiful when you are fully you."

There were more notes, all positive messages, scattered around Oakland, but the note writer herself had disappeared. He wanted to find her, so Mr. Conkey posted his own notes throughout Oakland with an email address and the message that he was looking for her.

A week later, the note writer wrote him back.

Gabrielle Bovard, a 25-year-old graduate of Chatham University's interior architecture program, is the note writer.

Standing in the South Side Works plaza Tuesday morning, Ms. Bovard reached into her purse. She pulled out a spool of masking tape and a handful of notes.

Then, darting from spot to spot, she taped the hand-written notes to a short post, to a bench, to a telephone pole, to a sign. "You will have a great life," one read. "Follow your heart, don't stop. EVER," another said. She posted another: "Channel your inner child."

She has been doing this -- leaving notes in places throughout Pittsburgh and surrounding towns -- for five years.

The idea, to leave a kind word behind for a complete stranger, came to Ms. Bovard as she volunteered along the Gulf Coast, helping people recover from Hurricane Katrina.

The year 2005 was a bad year for Ms. Bovard. She had just started college and was having a difficult time, plus she was having health problems. But her difficulties, she knew, paled compared to the suffering happening in New Orleans and other cities hit by Katrina.

She took a hiatus from school and saw that suffering firsthand as a volunteer in hurricane relief efforts. In New Orleans, she met people who had lost everything. In many cases, the only thing they had left were their stories. Words, she saw, were a source of comfort.

Ms. Bovard returned to Pittsburgh in 2007, and in the Borders bookstore in Upper St. Clair, she asked her friend, Katie Riley, if she wanted to write uplifting notes and leave them in books for someone to find.

They hid the notes, and Ms. Bovard has been posting them ever since.

"I think it's great. I think it's a way to -- it sounds kind of cheesy -- spread positivity," said Ms. Riley, 23, a Waynesburg University graduate student.

In the house where she lives with her parents in Scott, Ms. Bovard is still creating her notes. Then she fans out into communities, sometimes alone and sometimes with her boyfriend or friends, posting.

Mr. Conkey, the man who found her notes, and then her, lives in Alexandria, Va., now. He posts his own scraps of paper around Washington, D.C. A friend of his does it in Chicago, his sister does it in Florida, and her friend does it in Arizona.

A few months ago, Mr. Conkey suggested that they create a website, so people who find the notes can upload pictures of the message and describe, if they want, what it meant to them. At the bottom of every note Ms. Bovard writes now, she includes the name of her website,

The site launched June 1, two days before Ms. Bovard turned 25. That same day, Ms. Bovard was laid off from her job at an architecture firm.

It's easy to be positive when life is going well. It's harder when life deals a blow such as a job loss. But Ms. Bovard said losing her job has made her want to post more of her notes, to offer a kind word or an uplifting message to a person who may need it.

Ms. Bovard is looking for a job -- she wants a creative position in interior architecture or another field where she is helping people. On Tuesday, she posted 50 of her notes around the South Side.

Serendipity is her favorite word. The people who find her notes, she believes, are supposed to find them. And on her website, many of the people who post the notes they have found do write that the messages applied to their life.

"When times are hard, you sort of look around for some kind of clue, some kind of help, that things are going to get better. That it's not always going to be this way," she said.

She is the one leaving the notes. But if she found one, she thinks it would say something about not letting a difficult time in her life take away her passion for helping others.

It would say something like, "Don't forget what you were born to do."


Kaitlynn Riely: or 412-263-1707. This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to:


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