Spotlight: Abigayle Peterson & The Stories Within Magnify’s Code

Magnify Wellness was coded using a JavaScript library called React, but there is another language embedded into the story that Magnify Wellness’s code portrays. It is a familiar language, which conveys the challenging story of learning how to best use our gifts through the experiences we gain. Abigayle’s story is one that reminds us that we share the language of pain, ache and loneliness, though we may experience it differently. Her story reminds us that we can grow, learn and make profound leaps in a plentiful direction while keeping our experiences in our back pocket. 

TW: Sexual Assault

Magnify: Summer 2019

“Last year, I was at a Christian concert with some of my really good friends, and one of the songs was actually called Magnify. The song was about magnifying the Lord and who God is and I was [thinking], “Wow, this is a really good song.” 

Abigayle had invited a friend, who wasn’t Christian, to come to the concert with her. When this song came on, her thoughts began threading a narrative in her mind – one she hoped to embody. Abigayle realized that in this moment, she was magnifying love, and genuine friendship regardless of the congruence of their belief systems. Reflecting back on this moment at the beginning of COVID-19 isolation, she questioned how she could globally magnify hope, kindness, compassion, warmth and empathy for everyone, in the midst of unprecedented loneliness. She felt that this is what she was meant to do with the gifts she’d learned to harness through experience. Importantly, these experiences begged to be unlocked.

“I wasn’t really emotionally mature enough to do this two years ago, but I think I am now. I think the time is now. It’s really now or never.”

Abigayle had to do some digging first, to find and sit with the seeds that planted Magnify Wellness – both the troublesome and the triumphant. 

Planting the seeds: July 2018

It all started in seventh grade, at code.org’s annual Hour of Code Day when Abigayle realized the potential of her fingers on a keyboard. She was drawn to computers, programming, video games and everything in between. 

“I could code virtually anything I wanted. I could code anything that my mind comes up with, and it would appear after just typing it. I felt empowered […] And then I just kept going and going.”

Abigayle continued coding desktop apps, websites, innovative apps for startups, and innovative apps for people in need. She enjoyed working with and coding robots and conducting machine learning research. Infatuation developed elegantly into a deep passion for computer science, well beyond the aspect of coding. In her sophomore year of high school, she realized she could reach beyond typing in lines of input to output something appealing. She could help people who perhaps didn’t know how to help themselves. She could tell a story.

“When I coded, it felt like I was writing but I was actually writing for someone else’s story. That’s why I love to code because it forces me to face my fears instead of run away from them. With writing, you can use it as storytelling to impact many people. But I [felt that] I used it in sort of a wrong way. When I was younger, I would just use it to write down the things I was scared of. Because fear has been a very common theme throughout my life. I’ve always been scared of the future and I’ve always been scared of things that would happen to me or my family. When I code, it makes me feel like I shouldn’t be scared – I’m powerful too. I can use God’s gifts for me to help people who feel scared and alone.”

In the past, Abigayle often used writing to escape her anxiety, penning the things she feared. Magnify Wellness is a product of falling in love with a different kind of writing and storytelling – she recognized her power to solve societal issues that she saw around her. But, this realization was rooted in something deeper within herself. There was more digging to do. 

Many people refer to their high school years as the best of their life. For Abigayle, it was much more nuanced. Her first few years were laced with pain, and there are vivid pieces of her experience that she doesn’t miss. 

Abigayle was homeschooled until eighth grade and longed to venture beyond the shelter of this bubble to meet new people who thought differently from her. She began high school at a Christian private school. 

“The first week was okay, I was meeting lots of new friends, [but] then I realized that people started to talk behind my back, [and] make fun of me for the things I said. I’m definitely not perfect, but their words really hurt me. I would often find myself trying to sit with people and they wouldn’t let me sit with them because I wasn’t into this band, [or] I wasn’t interested in what they were interested in. I was interested in coding.”

Though she sought to expand the scope of her friendships, she had a difficult time meeting people who thought like her, spiralling down a challenging path of loneliness, sadness and anxiety, spearheaded by cyberbullying, sexual assault, and a difficult breakup. The toxicity in her environment made her feel unbearably alone. 

Thankfully, life has ways of showing us light even in its absence. A new candle was lit, paving the way for hope. Abigayle moved to Hawaii for her sophomore year, which promised a new world, new networks and the potential for joy simply for being who she was. Here, she felt more welcomed to practice passion and didn’t hesitate to. She started a Girls Who Code club, composed of 10-15 middle and high school girls who became her closest friends. Together, in a small classroom at the University of Hawaii, they coded unadulterated. But the best was yet to come. 

“Our advisor gave us a flyer to apply to this really cool entrepreneurship boot camp [where you] would spend 10 days [working] on a startup idea, and [then] pitch it to real venture capitalists.” 

The summer of 2018, spent at Nalukai Startup Academy, would be one for the books. 

“That summer in July 2018, I had the most amazing experience of my life. It was only 10 days, but those 10 days felt so short, but also like a lifetime at the same time. I met people that I [could] finally relate to, who were really entrepreneurial, innovative, ambitious, [and] hardworking.”

Though the professional experience was highlighted by competitive learning, experienced mentors, CEOs and recipes for success, Abigayle fostered something with her peers that she didn’t know she needed.

“I’ve come to realize, [that] we all opened up about the struggles [we’d] been experiencing in high school. I finally met people [with] who I could relate with. […] It also made me feel less alone. By having that community of 20 other high school students all coming together to build something impactful for this world, [it] just really made me feel less alone and made me feel really powerful [and know that we’re] in this journey together.”

She finally felt less isolated, surrounded by people who she could relate to and rely on. The community was a prerequisite for the one Abigayle would go on to breathe life into.

“If it weren’t for Nalukai Startup Academy I don’t think I would have had the idea for Magnify  [Wellness] today.” 

As all good things do, her time at Nalukai came to an end. Abigayle was only in Hawaii for a year, due to the stress and tension it placed on her and her family. But a lot can be learned in a year, and notably in a single interaction. 

Abigayle met with a clinical psychologist while she was at Nalukai Startup Academy. Walking through the beautiful Waimea valleys, she opened up about her stress and her family’s struggles with depression. The response from this walk has remained with her since.

“She told me that bad days eventually end. That really helped me realize that nothing really lasts forever here. And [that] the time is now to do what I need to do. I shouldn’t wait. That really changed my perspective. After that walk, I came back feeling like a different person because I had a different perspective. […] I need to be the best that I can be and my worth is not defined by [other] people.”

The right moment: January 2020

“I learned to build resilience and […] I’ve learned to be strong.” 

These were words spoken in late 2020, approximately eight months after COVID-19 wrapped its fingers around the world. 

Abigayle thought back to January 2020, when COVID-19 was beginning to pick up the pace, and quarantine was lurking a few months away. In its wake would be isolating loneliness that sparked the onset of a familiar feeling. Abigayle decided she didn’t want anyone to feel the way she had prior to Nalukai Startup Academy.

“I remember having an epiphany […] and I felt this pull on my heart to just do it now.”

“I felt this year that I should continue what I started two years ago.”

Magnify Wellness took its form in code this past January and was released in August. In less than 2 months, it garnered 500+ downloads. It has encouraged, accompanied and impacted people with parallel stories across the globe. It has also been a source of recognition and healing. 

“The first two years of high school helped me build resilience to grow through what I go through and [helped] me realize that I am not alone.” 

As Magnify Wellness has bifurcated to its now worldwide community, Abigayle has found solid ground in hers. Her mental health is facing upward. She has found people who want to see her succeed, noting that the people who didn’t weren’t a reflection of her own self-worth – they were a reflection of their feelings. Magnify Wellness has shown its community this message, but its origin has come full circle in helping its leader grow. 

“Honestly, choosing to do Magnify [Wellness], and choosing to continue when I started was the best decision I’ve ever made.”

“I really learned to not let fear hold me back from [the] things I want to do. […] This year, I decided to just push through that fear and do it anyway.”

A community beyond algorithms

Many of the applications in today’s lexicon, such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook are algorithms – they reflect endless versions of ourselves in often misleading bands of followers. Magnify Wellness seeks to break this barrier. 

“There’s already a lot of social networks out there, but I want to redefine the way social networks [work]. Because originally, social networks like Instagram and Facebook are created to bring people together from far distances and connect on common ground. Sometimes it can be misused. So I want to create a platform where the people who actually use the app know what they’re using it for – to strengthen the bond between their friends and family and to feel more positive.”

Abigayle spoke of breaking out of her shelter – she learned to listen before she spoke, to be careful of the words she used, and of the importance of quality over quantity. Abigayle acknowledged that if she hadn’t explored different relationships, she wouldn’t have grown so much.

“If you stay in one place, then you won’t grow. So having a resource like Magnify [Wellness], where it shows different groups [of people] and different resources around the world, it will open your eyes. [You’ll] see that there are so many different people [who] are different [from] you, but who all want the same thing. They want a community and they want people to know that they’re not alone. So it’s really empowering to see people from all different backgrounds coming together.”

At the root of coming together in a collective space, is embodying empathy.

“It really teaches you to have empathy for other people, it really shows you that, you know, there’s, there’s more outside of the same people you hang out with [and] you can grow by learning about other people.”

Future plans for Magnify Wellness

Of course, this story is far from over – there are many plans in place for Version 2 of Magnify Wellness. A few pieces in this next phase will include:

  • An ambassador program where you can represent Magnify Wellness in your city, on your college campus or your high school campus, and spread positivity or let people know about different resources
  • PDFs of positive affirmations, a daily planner, and to-do lists 
  • Expansion of the reach of the mental health database

At the heart of it all is the theme of impactful connection. 

“Every person has rough patches they go through, but what are you going to do once you have a rough patch? You can choose what to do with that. I want to encourage people to choose to reach out to [other] people because that’s really hard in the moment.”

One of the most promising pieces of Magnify Wellness’s growth is its revolutionary database of resources. Many of the larger mental health platforms highlight a few key resources. Magnify Wellness boasts 1000 under varieties of topics, ranging from student resources on burnout and imposter syndrome to empathy inducing psychology information. The database has, and will continue to bridge a gap between understanding other’s experiences, and finding resources to support them. Its reach will only continue to grow as Abigayle seeks to include it as a resource on her old high school’s website, making it accessible to school counsellors. 

“Counselors may not really know what direction to go, so they could go to this database and look [through the] resources. […] It may not fully solve the student’s problem, but at least it’s something that can [help] a student feel like it’s for them, [and that] there is [someone] out there that wants to help them. Because a lot of people feel like “no one wants to help me and I don’t know where to go” so this resource [will] help remove that [barrier].

Abigayle’s ability to envision a compassionate, inclusive world is endless. Magnify Wellness will continue on a path of hope in the hands typing its code, and writing the narrative of its future community. Abigayle continuously seeks to magnify everything she has learned, and it is beautiful to watch.

“Doing Magnify [Wellness] is really, really empowering and fuels my purpose of giving everyone equal access to mental health support. And I’m doing it all with what I love doing: coding.”

Contact Mikaela Brewer or Abigayle Peterson at: mbrewer@magnifywellness.org & apeterson@magnifywellness.org

Listen to the audio version of this blog here , read by Abigayle Peterson.

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