Mattituck-Cutchogue school district teams up with local charity for P.S. I Love You week

Mattituck-Cutchogue School District is honoring the legacy of former student Ryan Oliver with “P.S. I Love You Day.” The district has been participating in the event for the past three years, but this year for the first time, they have teamed up with local charity Ryan’s Team to help raise awareness about mental health issues.

Kate Oliver, Ryan’s sister, had the idea to start the organization to honor her brother’s legacy. Ryan died suddenly in January 2021 at age 16. Ryan’s Team, which launched that same year, features a grant program and supports various local events for community outreach. Ryan was remembered as a talented lacrosse athlete and a caring friend by the community.

“We created Ryan’s Team for [two reasons,]” said Ryan’s father, Michael Oliver. “One, to help local families in need, and also to help further awareness of the stigma of mental health and suicide.”

P.S. I Love You Day was created in 2011 by West Islip high school graduate, Brooke DiPalma, who directs the organization along with her sister Jaimie DiPalma. It was started about a year after they lost their father, Joseph DiPalma, to suicide in April 2010. Ms. DiPalma chose the phrase “I love you” because it was the last thing she and her father said to each other.

More than 450 schools throughout the country commemorate the day annually on the second Friday of February, according to a participation list on the organization’s website. Although this year’s official P.S. I Love You Day is Feb. 9, many schools use the week leading up to it as an opportunity to raise awareness among students about the day’s mission.

“The message is to stand up against bullying, help end depression and prevent suicide,” Mr. Oliver said.

Mattituck is planning a full week of events and activities leading up to Feb. 9, mostly keyed to this year’s P.S. I Love You Day theme, “Love is Meant to be Given.” Students are encouraged to share kind and loving messages throughout the week and sport various colors each day to draw attention to specific mental health challenges. On Friday, the district’s students, faculty and staff will be awash purple, the official color of mental health awareness initiatives.

Ryan’s Team and Mattituck-Cutchogue have a common goal of getting the entire North Fork community to participate in this project, said Meredythe Alliegro, the district’s Director of Pupil Personnel Services.

“We would love to see purple from the start of the North Fork all the way down,” she said.

Andrea Nydegger, a student assistance counselor and social worker for the district said using Facebook and other social media platforms to share content about P.S. I Love You week is one way they have been encouraging the community to participate.

“We have a great community here,” she said. “We work very closely with our local North Fork counseling center, Family Service League, and I think we’ve been doing really good work in the last three years hooking lots of kids and families up with outside mental health services.”

Ryan’s Team has also been trying to include the broader community in this year’s campaign.

“We asked the businesses on Love Lane, we provided all of them with letters and we said ‘hey, on February 9, show your support, wear purple, make something purple, purple donuts, purple whatever and just show your support for the school and for the community and for the kids,” Mr. Oliver said. “We’ve had about four or five people, companies and businesses respond to us saying yes, they’re in 100%. We also asked them to donate a proceed of their profits from that day so we can enhance what we support.”

Mr. Oliver said that participating in events like P.S. I Love You Day helps continue his son’s legacy.

“This is about the P.S. I Love You event, it’s not about Ryan’s Team,” Mr. Oliver said. “We’re fortunate that we can help support it, but we always want to focus on the students and those who are struggling.”