Vivian: How to Build a Community

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Vivian Nunez, 22, is a recent college graduate, a digital marketing and social media consultant, and the founder and editor of Too Damn Young, a website devoted to supporting teens and young adults who have lost someone they love.

Vivian told me about how she channelled her own experience with loss and grief into meaningful work by building a website and community from the ground up.

R: Tell me about your professional journey so far.

V: I went to Baruch College in New York with a major in digital marketing and minor in journalism. Most of my course work consisted of digital marketing and social media, while most of my professional experience and internships were editorial. I interned at a couple of magazines and a few non-profits, overall it was an amazing experience. I found a real passion for telling people’s stories and using that as a tool to be part of something bigger. I graduated from Baruch in May of 2014. Now I do social media and digital marketing consulting on the side while Too Damn Young is my main hustle.

R: What inspired Too Damn Young?

V: My older brother and I were raised by my mom until she passed away when I was ten years old. From then on my grandmother was my legal guardian and my parent. So from the age of ten to twenty-one she was my second mom. My grandmother then passed away in March of 2014, she and I were extremely close. She was like a mom to me. She was very involved in my education so the fact that she passed right before I graduated was really devastating. Something I learned when I lost my mom was that you have to have somewhere to channel your grief. It’s so overpowering. After I lost my mom my outlet for many years was poetry. I felt like I’d had a crash course in what to do when someone you love dies. So when my grandmother passed away I knew I had to create something. One of my best friends and mentors told me that I should create a space for other people who have lost someone. We had already been toying with that idea before my grandma passed, but it wasn’t until after her passing that I really got the momentum to do it. So I started building the website on the back end toward the end of March. I built it by myself really quietly for about three months before I officially launched in May. It’s been pretty awesome. The title Too Damn Young comes from the idea that you’re too damn to be going through this alone and/or the person who died was too damn young to leave.

Another one of my inspirations to start the website was that I’ve noticed that when you lose someone, you gravitate toward people who have gone through the same things as you. Some of my closest friends have also suffered a major loss in their lives. It’s a way to know that you’re not alone.

R: What can someone expect to find on the website?

V: The website consists of articles and personal essays that tell stories of loss and grieving. It’s designed to be a place to call home while everything around you is still shaking. It is a community of teens and young adults who have lost someone they love and don’t want to grieve alone. Losing someone is already such an isolating life event that you find yourself searching for someone to say, “hey I’m going through that too”.

Saying “I’m grieving” or “I’m sad” is often seen as a sort of taboo subject, especially if a lot of time has elapsed since the loss. I don’t think there is a time frame for grieving. But the world does. For example, if six months pass after a loss and you say, “I’m still sad about this” people don’t often understand why. They think that’s not how grieving is supposed to be. So it makes it hard to talk about it. The main goal of the website is to put out the idea that it’s ok to take your time grieving. There are no stages of grieving that you can check off and follow along on a list. Grief is very personal. So the only thing that brings people on the website together is simply the fact that they’ve lost someone. But that’s very powerful.

R: How has the website grown?

V: It has grown pretty quickly, it’s getting a bit of press. We did our first celebrity interview a few months ago with country singer Joel Crouse. He’s never lost someone himself, but the message of the website really resonated with him. I think that’s great for other people to see that you don’t have to go through a loss yourself to learn how to act around those who are grieving or how to respond to their grief. He’s one of our biggest supporters right now. The team is growing as well. It started with just me and now we have a few regular contributors.

R: What does the future of Too Damn Young look like?

V: I want to see it grow more and I want to see it become a tool in which grief is more mainstream and talking about grief is normal; especially for teenagers and young adults. I feel like a lot of people are way more comfortable talking about someone who is older and grieving rather than someone who is younger. When I was a child it seemed ok for me to grieve, and then when I was a teenager and even now there’s this expectation that I should just get over it. It doesn’t work like that. It isn’t fair for a teenager who is going through normal things like prom, applying to college to have to also deal with loss alone. When you’re young you’re supposed to figure out who you’re going to be as an adult. It’s hard enough to go through when you’re not dealing with a loss. Even if the loss was years ago. I think if you can’t figure out how to address your grief at that age, it will be even more difficult to figure out how you’re going to once adulthood hits. I want Too Damn Young to be a space that makes these kinds of conversations acceptable to have.

Be sure to check out TooDamnYoung.com to read more inspiring stories like Vivian’s. Join the TDY community on Facebook and Twitter and contact Vivian to share your own story.

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