This issue: Winter 2018

Don't Give Up

Amy Wolff’s yard signs are spreading hope across the nation

By Melissa Binder

Alumni Making a Difference logo

On the way home from the hospital last spring, as the family began the ascent into their suburban McMinnville neighborhood, two white yard signs with bold lettering caught their eyes.

“You are worthy of love,” read one.

“Your mistakes don’t define you,” read the other.

As they drove in and out of the neighborhood during the painful weeks that followed, those signs beamed hope.

One day in July, the mother parked outside the lawn with the signs, went to the door and knocked. She asked the owner, Jenna Luoto, to come outside. And then she wept.

Her 13-year-old son had attempted suicide that spring, she told Luoto. Those signs were there the day they brought him home.

Luoto was overwhelmed with emotion, including pride in her friend who had made those simple signs. “Thank you, God,” she thought as she hugged the mother, “for using Amy.”

George Fox University alumna Amy Wolff (’05) couldn’t have imagined that moment when she created the yard signs in May. In fact, she’d worried people would think they were silly. Instead, those simple black and white signs have meant the world to dozens – if not hundreds or thousands – of people who’ve seen them at just the right moment.

The story began about two years earlier, when the idea to create encouraging yard signs popped into Wolff’s mind after reading a book about loving strangers in a radical way. But she wrote it off. “Yard signs,” she thought, “are pretty lame.” The idea resurfaced every few months, but she always set it aside.

Then, in May of 2017, a group of church friends discussed the rise in suicides among Newberg youth. A teacher shared that the district had lost two current and four former students to suicide that year. And, according to the local news, six teens had attempted to take their lives in the span of just two weeks.

One phrase rang like a bell in Wolff’s mind: “You don’t do nothing.”

And so, she did something. With the help of a friend who is a graphic designer, she ordered 20 yard signs with the messages “Your mistakes don’t define you” or “You are worthy of love” on one side and “Don’t give up” on the other. She and her husband packed their two young daughters into the car, and the whole family drove around Newberg, asking residents on busy streets if they would be willing to display the signs in their yards.

“I had a moment that day of thinking, ‘This is so stupid. No one cares about yard signs,’” she says with a laugh. “But I was $120 in, and I wasn’t going to waste them. I figured, at least they were anonymous, so what was the risk?”

The response was overwhelmingly positive, and Wolff decided to share photos and details on Facebook. Hundreds liked or shared the post, many of them asking to order signs for their own yards.

Wolff kicked the project into gear, building a website and establishing a system for dealing with orders. With time, she expanded the encouragement to car decals, stickers, wristbands and cards, all of which she sells at cost. Today, there are more than 1,530 yard signs in the United States and abroad, and Wolff has placed orders for about 10,000 wristbands, 1,500 postcards, 2,500 stickers and 400 decals.

Among the first to order signs and other goods were Peter and Jane Mellers, whose son, in his third year at George Fox, had taken his life that spring.

“When you lose somebody, you want to make a difference,” Jane says. “But we were not – are not – in a position to pull something like that together. Being able to partner with her has been really helpful for our grief.”

The Mellers purchased 30 signs, as well as wristbands and cards, and have been giving them to friends in their Colorado town. It’s given them something to talk about with people at work and at church – people who don’t know what to say to them right now. It’s given them hope that Daniel’s life will not be forgotten.

“The Bible talks about sowing seed,” Peter says. “That’s exactly what this feels like. You’re planting these little seeds of signs and wristbands in the world, and letting God do with it what he wants.”

Amazingly, Wolff has heard from two strangers who just happened to be passing through that rural area of Colorado and were impacted enough to find her and reach out – just a bit of proof that those seeds are indeed sprouting.

She’s heard from dozens of others, too. A man who felt rejected by his family and community. A single woman who felt hopeless about ever finding a spouse. Two people who were struggling to power through exercise in their neighborhoods after being diagnosed with diabetes or heart disease.

And that’s the beautiful thing about these signs: Whether the viewer is struggling with depression or a tough project at work, the meaning is in the eye of the beholder.

“The movement is not about one thing,” Wolff says. “Local suicide rates are what prompted me to finally make the signs, but it’s not a suicide-prevention movement. Really, it’s meant to speak to everyone.”

The fact that 20 yard signs turned into a “movement” still amazes Wolff.

“I’m just a woman in Newberg. I am the sign lady,” she says, laughing.

Most of the time, Wolff is focused on taking care of her family and running a communications business with her father, which includes several travel days each month to provide public-speaking training around the country. She participates in a small group at church, and she volunteers at her daughter’s school.

But that’s the other beautiful thing about these signs. They’re a reminder that anyone, anywhere, can make a difference.

All you have to do is something.

Visit the Don't Give Up Movement website

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