May 13th 2017 was a wet Saturday afternoon when my husband, my two young daughters and I filed into our car on a stealth mission in our small town of Newberg, Oregon:
Anonymously stake 20 yard signs.
The signs said:
Don't give up
You are worthy of love
Your mistakes don't define you
A few weeks before, we were hanging out with friends when one of them mentioned the suicide rates in our community and I about fell out of my chair. I felt completely hopeless and ill equipped to be part of a solution. After all, I wasn't a therapist. I didn't know of anyone suffering with thoughts of self-harm. What on earth could I do?
But it was clear in my heart, I had to do something.
The idea of encouraging yard signs had been bouncing around in my head for years but it was always 'just a silly idea'. That is until May 2017 - then it became the something.
When we knocked on strangers' doors asking to place signs in their yard for 2 weeks, they didn't hesitate. Once they saw the signs had no branding, no website, no organization, no strings attached, just a young family trying to spread love and hope, they were all in.
Within a few hours of returning home, the community was buzzing about the signs, and when we realized people wanted to purchase signs for their yards, we spoke up and offered to help! My friend Jessica Brittell, a talented graphic designer, designed and printed our first batch for us. And the second batch. And pretty soon I was emailing her in a panic after being flooded with orders. Within a few days, our community ordered over 150 yard signs.
I vividly remember that week sitting on the couch feeling totally elated and completely overwhelmed.
I looked at my husband and said, "This is big. Are we all in? Do we want to do this? Because now it's a thing. Do we want a thing?' Without a hesitation, he confirmed: we're all in. That night he built me website. The next day I opened a separate bank account for the movement.
Over the next few weeks we added more messages: You matter. You are not alone. One day at a time. It's not too late. We also added smaller cheaper product: wristbands, stickers, encouragement cards - selling everything at-cost...
OF ACCIDENTALLY STARTING A GLOBAL MOVEMENT
The movement really picked up traction when family friends road tripped that summer from Portland, OR to Rochester, NY leaving a trail of our product in every public bathroom, restaurant, and rest station across this great country. Their stories of beautiful connection with strangers through our product stirred my heart.
Indeed, this was big.
Within a year we had news outlets in Dallas, Boston, Cincinnati, and Portland cover our movement. I guess generous love with no strings attached was newsworthy. I guess yard signs were genius.
People are using our product in love packages to the homeless, corporate gifts boxes, handouts at family reunions and swim tournaments, and tokens of hope at funeral services. Stickers have been plastered in Manila, Philippines. yard signs posted in Mbabe, Rwanda, and wristbands handed out in Costa Rica and Zambia. Sign rallies are being organized by generous kind souls all around the country. Schools, churches, businesses, neighborhoods, and nonprofits are using our tokens of hope and love to be a voice of support in their communities.
And it's all organic.
In the Fall of 2018, when we realized the movement wasn't slowing down, we decided to legally become a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Our board consists of Jessica Brittell (our original dream enabler) and Evangeline Pattison (the friend I called in a panic in May 2017 "Are we a business? Are we a non-profit? Are we just a movement? WHAT IS THIS!?")
Our product has shipped to all 50 states and made it's way to over 26 countries in several different languages.
But the most encouraging and fulfilling part of running this movement are the stories. With permission, below are just a few from the first 3 months. I simply could not keep up with all the stories but this will give you an idea of the impact love and kindness can have.
Friends, let's not underestimate the power of simple kind words at the right place at the right time for the right person. Let's not wait for someone more qualified or less broken to spread hope and and love.
Life is messy but we're in this together.
"Our son was a victim of suicide about three weeks ago. We read about your efforts with the signs when his fiancé “liked” your post. We are trusting God to bring about good from the pain and we see this as one of those good things. It means a lot to us that you are caring about people that you don’t even know and following it up by actually doing something... We don’t know if a sign message would have helped our son but we pray that it will help others. As you said, we believe that love always wins, especially God’s love, and what was meant for evil, God will use for good. Our grief is so raw right now, it is hard for us to think about helping others yet, so thank you for stepping forward."
"So when I say your signs saved my life, I mean I feel like your signs pulled me out from the feeling of complete hopelessness. They gave me back perspective. I didn't have a plan to kill myself but I really felt like dying. Things are still really hard and yesterday was one of the harder days but sometimes we just need a random sign to break up the negative voice in our heads. I don't think it's coincidence those signs showed up on my route to work and I'm sure they spoke to many others too... Life can be hard but it is so worth it. Sometimes all it takes is the reminder we aren't alone and even a stranger can impact your life when you need it most."
"I am a gay man. Never did I think that anyone in my family, or community would accept me for me or help me find the resources I desperately needed. I often thought of taking myself, and unfortunately followed through with attempts... If I had seen those signs when I was on the bus to school..."
"I am an eating disorder dietitian and cannot tell you how important these messages are to myself and the population I work with. I've already purchased signs from your website but I want to help spread the message in any and every way that I can." (We sent her 1000 custom cards that read 'Your weight does not define you'.)
"38 days ago I had a heart attack. When I came back to work a week after leaving the hospital I started to see your yard signs... At lunch I decided to go on a walk. I kept seeing more and more signs! It was crazy! It was like they were put there just for me. I actually called my office and asked if anyone knew what they were about because why would all these signs telling me not to give up and to not beat myself up over my mistakes be in every yard around my workplace... I was in a pretty dark and scary place but your signs gave me some much needed encouragement."
"I'm obese and have struggled with my weight all my life. I've recently been diagnosed with diabetes and need to make changes. I found myself in a lonely situation where I have a family but they're not all that supportive or willing to help me. I've been forcing myself to start taking walks even though it hurts to be active.There have been times where I've found myself crying as I'm walking around the neighborhood. Then all at once your signs popped up and literally told me, 'Don't give up' and 'You matter.' It feels like I have my very own support group cheering me each step of the way. Whether it be depression, diabetes, or a billion other things, we are all human and struggling in some way."
"This morning as I was leaving for work, a woman was stopped outside our house in her car with tears in her eyes. She thanked me, with her hand over her heart, for posting the sign. She told me that I mattered too and that I helped her."
"So someone just knocked on my door almost in tears. He told me about his daughter and her struggles with drugs and asked if he could buy my sign. Of course I said no he could have it. I prayed for both of them and he left. I will be ordering more signs..."
"I just had a woman knock on my door. She began to cry and thank me for the signs in my yard. She lives up the road and said her son had attempted suicide and these signs were in the yard the day they came home from the hospital. She drives by every day and for her, her son, and her daughter - the reminder is profound."