When I was in college few things were more exciting than checking my little PO box and seeing that I’d gotten mail—a care package from my mom or a card from one of my roommates. Sure, living together meant we could just hand each other a note, but that’s not nearly as fun.
Morgan Rondinelli and Molly Fishback understand the power of a handwritten, customized note, and their one thousand (and counting!) recipients have gotten to experience the excitement of checking their mail and finding a message of hope. Morgan and Molly are here to share the inspiration behind the Not Alone Notes initiative, what has changed since starting the project, and what’s next.
When did you start Not Alone Notes? What inspired you to start it?
Morgan: The idea for Not Alone Notes stemmed from watching a YouTube video late at night, as one does when trying to fall asleep. I was watching a family vlogger channel, and their young daughter had just been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Shortly after she was diagnosed, they posted a video of her excitedly opening a package that had finally arrived in the mail. In it were children’s books about type 1, resources for the parents, and her favorite, a stuffed animal with special patches she could use to practice finger pricks and giving insulin. I loved this concept and wished to mail something to people with OCD after they are diagnosed. We could include memoir books, workbooks, fiddle toys, stress balls, resources, and an encouraging letter.
I quickly realized that a package of that size would be expensive to manage, but what stuck was the encouraging letter and list of resources. I loved writing in general and was pen pals with several friends I had met through the OCD conference. Plus, I already had a box full of stationery, so it would only cost the price of a stamp.
I posted on my blog about Not Alone Notes in September of 2017. Basically, I outlined my idea to mail handwritten notes to people with OCD and linked to a Google form I made asking for name, address, and favorite color. I had no idea if anyone would actually request a note. About a week later, though, I got the email notifying me that someone had made the first request. Sitting at my desk in my college dorm room, I wrote that first Not Alone Note. And we haven’t stopped since.
Not Alone Notes has grown in leaps and bounds. Your team has grown, too. How did Molly become involved?
Morgan: Molly became involved within weeks, if not days, of mailing that first note. She followed me on Twitter and sent me a DM explaining that she was an artist and would love to hand make cards for the project. I adored the idea of using more personalized cards than store-bought stationery, so I quickly agreed. Shortly after, this stranger several states away mailed me a package of beautiful, handmade cards.
As requests continued to come in at a faster speed, I realized I needed help writing. Molly had stayed in contact and offered to help, so she was the perfect fit. Over time, we’ve become partners in this project, and also close friends. I’m continually blown away by Molly’s ideas for Not Alone Notes, as well as her skills for marketing and expanding the project.
Recently, we surpassed mailing our thousandth note. For me, this was overwhelming emotionally. Two and a half years ago, I thought it would be a big deal if we sent one hundred notes. Then, we met that, and then two hundred, and so on. And here we are. If you count how many days it’s been since we mailed the first note, we actually average sending over at least one note a day. I keep having to remind myself that Molly, our team of writers, and I, we did that. I’m so proud of our little team and that this idea became a reality.
You’ve had so many requests for handmade notes that you hit a backlog—but now you’re all caught up! How did you accomplish that?
Molly: We were invited to speak at Chrissie Hodge’s event OCD Gamechangers 2020. The day before the event, Chrissie put together Mastermind groups for the speakers where we can throw around ideas for upcoming projects as well as talk about our current struggles in advocacy. We had recently held applications for people in the OCD community to become Not Alone Note writers and card makers. When at OCD Gamechangers we had accepted two people, but had a total of forty-five people submit applications to help us. During our Mastermind group we were given the advice that if more people want to help, then let them. This meant for us to lose some control. It wasn’t going to be just the two of us writing, making, and sending cards. We were told that we will not be able to grow if we don’t give up some control.
Once we went home, we discussed how many people we wanted to add to our writing team. We decided to add ten new letter writers, and they are now part of our letter writer family. We would not be able to catch up without them. They have busted out amazing handmade cards and we are proud of how much they have accomplished so far! We are lucky to have them on our team!
At the time of the Mastermind session we were four months behind in writing notes. Now, we are caught up and work on requests soon after we receive them.
Morgan, Not Alone Notes is now a nonprofit. Congratulations! Why was it important to you to do that?
Morgan: Becoming a nonprofit was something we had considered for Not Alone Notes pretty early on in our growth. It felt important to provide credibility when requesting people’s addresses, opportunities for grants and tax-deductible donations, the ability to open a bank account, protection from liability, and potentially reduced postage. After doing much research and having a bit of luck, I connected with a friend who ran the nonprofit side of things for the community theater I participate with. He was willing to help Not Alone Notes with the incorporation and filing process free of charge. This saved us hundreds of dollars compared to if we had to pay lawyer fees or a professional service. You really can do it all by yourself, it just takes some work. Now, we are at the stage of bylaws and constitution. We are just about done writing them and will soon file. Then, we move on to 501(c)3 paperwork. If anything, I’m learning a great deal about the behind-the-scenes of nonprofit work just from this hands-on experience.
With so many people staying home due to COVID-19, have you seen an increase in requests for notes? Do you have a message of hope to share in this unprecedented time?
Molly: We have used this time to reach out to organizations and prominent members of the OCD community to share Not Alone Notes with their following. This is a tough time for everyone, and we can imagine even more so for those who struggle with a mental illness. Since the USPS is still running, we are able to continue to write notes and get them out to people with OCD and related disorders, and remind them that they aren’t alone during this hard time.
My message of hope is that although times are tough, the OCD community is still here for you. We are all in this together trying to figure out how to best live our lives during this unpredictable time. Remember to keep in touch with friends and family. Although we cannot be there physically with them, we can use technology (and letter writing) to connect.