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Soldotna gets Before I Die board

Sabine Poux/KDLL

You may have seen it in Soldotna Creek Park — a big chalkboard with the words “Before I die” written across the top.

“Before I die I want to find peace,” reads one line. “Before I die I want to fall in love,” says another.

It’s part of an existing network of similar walls in at least 78 different countries. Shari Conner, of Change 4 the Kenai, brought the concept to the peninsula. 

The gist is this: Meditate on what makes life worth living by jotting down your ambitions, big or small, on the board.

“It’s not a morbid thought,” Conner said. “Everyone has a beginning and an end on this planet and in this lifetime. What do you want to accomplish in your lifetime?”

The Before I Die project started in New Orleans. The founder made the first wall in 2011 when she was grappling with the death of a loved one. 

Anyone’s allowed to build a Before I Die wall in their community. Conner and a group of students from Sources of Strength, a youth suicide prevention project, got the wall up in Soldotna. They used CARES Act funding and hired Kenai Neon Signs in Nikiski to make the chalkboard.

Sources of Strength also put up a wall at Soldotna High School. That one says, “When I graduate.”

“It is a project that promotes future,” Conner said. “And future planning. And it’s suicide prevention and community project of growth and what you want to see in your community.”

There are also boards in Seward, Juneau and Valdez.

In the time of COVID, those community-facing messages are even more important, Conner said. As for her own “Before I die” manifesto:

“I have lots for myself," she said. "The one thing I wrote on it first, I wrote, ‘Connect again.’"

They’ll erase the board weekly so there’s room for new contributions. Change 4 the Kenai will be posting photos of the board and giving prizes to participants through its Facebook page, @change4thekenai.

Sabine Poux is a producer and reporter for the Brave Little State podcast of Vermont Public. She was formerly news director and evening news host at KDLL in Kenai.

Originally from New York, Sabine has lived and reported in Argentina and Vermont and Kenai.