Mother erects billboards to help those dealing with grief, addiction after losing sons

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – Billboards like Know Hope NC’s on Oleander Drive are meant to guide people from feeling like there is no hope to knowing that there is.

Thousands of people drive past the old Jelly Beans skate center on Oleander Drive every day, making it a prime spot for advertising. One in particular, however, stands out from the others.

“If just one person saw this billboard and were struggling and it helped them to reach out for support, then it would be worth the effort,’ said Freida MacDonald, founder of Know Hope NC.

In total, eight billboards across Wilmington memorialize hundreds of people who have died and encourage others to get help as they battle grief and addiction. MacDonald says her mission was inspired after losing her two sons to gun violence and addiction.

“Know Hope came to be as a result of a tattoo my son Stephen had,” said MacDonald. “When I asked him why he got that particular tattoo, he said, ‘Because you’ve got to know hope, Momma.’ That’s my legacy from him.”

MacDonald’s son Michael fell into his addiction after his brother died as a result of gun violence in 2012. What began as a pill addiction spiraled into heroin use and eventually led to an accidental overdose while in a recovery center in Wilmington.

MacDonald hopes the billboards lead others to reach out for help with their grief and addiction recovery.

“I have as recently as this week had someone that was in detox tell me that because he saw a particular one on [I-40] that he started really thinking more about what he was doing and it led him to the decision that he was going to go to detox,” said MacDonald.

Since the deaths of her sons, MacDonald has made it her life’s work to help others. She now works at a recovery center and dedicates her time to her nonprofit. Six years after losing Michael, MacDonald knows he’d be proud of the work she’s doing.

“He was very honest with me about people that he did know who were struggling and he kept saying, ‘I want to help them. I want to be better so I can help those that are struggling,’” said MacDonald. “Seeing me do that, he would very much be happy and pleased and proud of me.”

Right now, three versions of the billboard fill those eight slots and will continue cycling through until January 3. MacDonald says Know Hope NC is working on a fourth version to add next year.

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