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KD Sunday Spotlight: 'Positive Painting Project' helps address mental health struggles

KD Sunday Spotlight: The Positive Painting Project
KD Sunday Spotlight: The Positive Painting Project 06:07

MONROEVILLE (KDKA) - Local communities are "painting with a purpose."

The Positive Painting Project honors the life and legacy of Katie Whysong from O'Hara.

She would have turned 17 years old on February 27th.

Before she passed away, she had a vision to inspire others using art.

Now the people who love her most are continuing her mission through The Positive Painting Project.

Katie had several sketchbooks filled with elaborate drawings.

Her father Todd Whysong loved the one of him and her. 

"She was really quiet and thoughtful," said Todd. "Sweet."

But every day wasn't filled with smiles for Katie.

"She was more of the type to suffer quietly," said Todd. "It was not so much her journals or even what she said, it was her drawings and her paintings where she communicated that to us."

Katie was diagnosed with depression when she was 13 years old and in 7th grade at Dorseyville Middle School.

Through her own heartache, she still managed to love and care for others.

"She was passionate about animals," said her stepmother Alisa Whysong. "She was passionate about her friends; she was passionate about supporting her friends and other people who were struggling or marginalized."

Sadly, on March 10th, 2021, Katie ended her life, 11 days after her 15th birthday. 

"One of the hardest things of depression and losing someone to depression, let alone your own child, is just thinking that they spent their last moments thinking no one would care, that it wouldn't matter if they were no longer here," said Todd. "Nothing could be further from the truth. It's just crippling."

Now the Whysongs, family, and friends are turning their pain into purpose.

They're continuing Katie's passion to support others struggling with mental health through art.

Katie shared her goal with her art teacher Nancie Goldberg.

"Katie's idea was that when kids are stressed, they go into the bathroom to be alone," said Goldberg. "We wanted to make sure they always knew they were supported. So, the positive messages started by going in the bathrooms, and then we realized that everybody needs a positive message."

They read: "you matter hold onto hope, you are not alone, no feeling is final, it's okay to not be okay and never give up" with Katie's signature on every canvas.

"The design for the six messages was done by Mackenzie Seymour – another teacher Katie had in 7th grade," said Goldberg. "We hand screen print every message on every board. So, it's a very personal process for all of us, and we're able to bring it to far reaches of any community."

The positive painting project holds events where people of all ages create these signs of hope and healing, and it also serves as art therapy for some.

They started by hanging the canvases in the fox chapel area school district.

Now they're in 21 schools across 18 districts, libraries, cafes, and community centers in Allegheny, Westmoreland, and Butler counties.

"The purpose of the signs and the messages are to remind everyone who sees them, especially students, that you are not alone in this," said Todd. "These feelings are temporary. No feeling is final and to not give up."

 "I smile every time I see one," said Katie Haas. "Sometimes when I walk by, I boop her little art tag. It's like my little way of saying hi and I miss her."

Haas was friends with Katie since 3rd grade -- sharing laughs, interests, and even first names! 

"She made me really happy," said Haas. "I loved being with her, and I loved getting to know her. Ever since Katie passed away, mental health has become very important to me. I actually want to major in psychology because of it. It gives me a drive, and she's given me a passion in life. I want to make sure everyone knows they matter and that they're not alone." 

According to the CDC, in 2021, 42 percent of high school students felt persistently sad or hopeless, and 10 percent attempted suicide.

The Whysongs hope these signs destigmatize mental health and create connections.

"You don't have to suffer in silence," said Todd. "You don't have to keep it to yourself. You're not a burden to other people."

"With this, it starts the conversation," said Alisa. "We found a note behind one of the paintings saying, 'this helped save my life'. I just got cold chills because that's what we want. We don't want another family to suffer like we are and will."

As Katie's crew spreads these positive paintings, they wish she was here to witness the powerful impact.

"I'm really proud of you, and I think your idea has helped so many people," said Haas. "it's going to continue to help people. So, thank you for everything, Katie."

"The fact that she can still help other people struggling like she was I think would just mean the world to her, and it means everything to us," said Todd.

Katie may have been quiet at times, but her message remains loud and clear for both the eyes and ears.

And Katie being Katie, left behind this reminder just days before she passed writing a quote: "you are everything to someone. You are enough." 

The Whysongs also created a scholarship in Katie's name to give teenagers in need the opportunity to take local art classes.

If you're interested in applying, holding a positive painting project in your neighborhood, or going to their upcoming event, go to

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