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PostSecret founder inspires, entertains during JCC presentation

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The PostSecret Project is a lot of things. It’s a blog with more than 600 million recorded visitors. It’s a book series published by HarperCollins. It’s a multimedia presentation. It’s an effort that has raised millions of dollars for suicide prevention.

But before all that, it was just a guy walking the streets of Washington, D.C., with a handful of postcards, soliciting secrets from strangers.

“It felt as weird as it sounds,” said PostSecret founder Frank Warren.

Mr. Warren spoke about the events that led him to create his popular blog and book series before a crowd of more than 200 people Wednesday night at Jefferson Community College.

It was a complex night emotionally, alternating peals of laughter with tears and moments of reflection organized around a powerful central theme: sharing secrets can save lives.

Through partnerships with 1-800-suicide, a suicide preventation hotline, and I’m Alive, a text-based suicide prevention hotline, The PostSecret Project raises awareness about the prevalence of suicide in society and the tools available to fight it.

Mr. Warren began his blog as an experiment, scanning and posting the cards that he distributed.

People would decorate them, send them to him and he would scan them and post them to a website.

The first week the site attracted 100 visitors, the next week 1,000, and before too long, tens of thousands of people were visiting, according to Mr. Warren.

“Suddenly I didn’t feel so crazy. I felt like I had accidently tapped into something,” he said.

Mr. Warren said that since founding the PostSecret Project he has received messages on seashells, Polaroid pictures of people in the nude, a bra, a knife, a flip-flop sandal and even a 1-pound bag of coffee — his favorite method of delivery.

Mr. Warren’s presentation included the last voice mail messages of deceased loved ones sent to him by people inspired by a postcard that read, “When people I love leave voice mails on my phone I always save them in case they die tomorrow and I have no other way of hearing their voice again.”

These voices were played in tandem, each overlapping the next, until the strains of a unorthodox happy birthday song issued from the warm and scratchy voice of an elderly woman filled the auditorium.

The cascade of voices ended, and just as Mr. Warren, who has a studied nonchalance in his delivery, began to speak again, the telltale sniffles and rustling of coats could be heard as attendees wiped their eyes.

“There’s always a lot of emotion in the room after I play those messages,” Mr. Warren said, following up the emotional climax of the night with a humorous anecdote about ex-lovers and email accounts.

Revealing some of his motivation for starting the project, Mr. Warren shared a voice mail message left by his mother, with whom he appears to have a difficult but functional relationship.

The message indicated that his mother did not want to receive a copy of his latest book, “Confessions on Life, Death and God,” because she saw it in a bookstore and did not approve of the content.

Mr. Warren said that he began keeping secrets when he was young to avoid his mother’s judgment.

“The first memories I had keeping secrets were from my mom,” he said. “I learned only after PostSecret took my life and turned it upside down ... I would go through the worst experiences of my life again exactly as they occurred because they led me to this place, this moment right now. Those experiences led me to fight for suicide prevention.”

The event was organized by the college’s Campus Activities Board and received positive reviews from those in attendance, many of whom lined up after the presentation to purchase signed copies of “Confessions on Life, Death and God” from Mr. Warren.

Austin T. Orecchio, a sophomore creative writing student at JCC, received a copy of one of Mr. Warren’s books for free after he asked the author for a hug.

“It’s really great to hear about people coming together instead of hearing about differences. ... Honestly that’s why I wanted to give him a hug, he just made me so happy,” Mr. Orecchio said.

Mr. Warren will deliver the keynote address during the college’s sixth annual Leadership Day today at 9:30 a.m. Nearly 400 students, including more than 350 from area high schools, will attend, according to the college.

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