Photo courtesy of the Random Note Project.

Gabrielle Bovard believes a small act of kindness can make a big impact.

As a teenager, she jotted down caring words on scraps of paper and left them around town. The notes, tucked inside novels at a bookstore or taped to a fence post, expressed sentiments of love and encouragement for strangers to find.

We are all looking for some kind of assurance that everything will be okay, says Bovard, 33, of South Fayette. “I wanted to help by showing people that they are loved and their life has meaning even in uncertain times.”

Photo by Kristy Locklin.

In 2011, after graduating from Chatham University, Bovard canvassed Oakland with her anonymous affirmations. Adam Conkey, a Carnegie Mellon University graduate, watched her leave a note on a glass case and then walk away. He picked it up and read: “You are the most beautiful when you are fully you.”

Inspired, he penned his own uplifting messages (with his email address at the bottom of each) and hid them throughout the neighborhood. Bovard found one of his messages, the pair forged a friendship and the Random Note Project was born. Since then, they’ve spread joy like confetti all over Pittsburgh, from Bethel Park to Squirrel Hill to Children’s Hospital.

They encourage others to join in. Bovard and Conkey created a step-by-step guide to being a “note ghost” that includes tips such as using recycled paper, being respectful and upholding the tenets of Leave No Trace.

When folks find a note, they’re encouraged to upload a photo of it to the website, share their story and leave a pronouncement of their own. Hundreds of people across the globe have participated, hiding greetings like Easter eggs.

Photo courtesy of the Random Note Project.

Several years ago, a newly single mother was going through an emotional time when she found a memo on a package of diapers that said, “You are not invisible.” The confidence boost encouraged her to pay it forward and give back to her community.

Bovard, who works for Cadnetics in Green Tree, says the COVID-19 shutdown caused a lull in the Random Note Project, but the Black Lives Matter movement has more people looking for answers and encouragement. One sentence can speak volumes.

“I’ve seen a lot of stories come in from people who have been really discouraged by current events and then found a note that restored their hope and faith in humanity,” she says.

Kristy Locklin is a North Hills-based writer. When she's not busy reporting, she enjoys watching horror movies and exploring Pittsburgh's craft beer scene.