Her Hometown Was Broken After Multiple People Took Their Lives, so She Set Out to Create Signs of Hope
Her heartbroken hometown needed a sign, so she gave them one.
The signs appeared practically overnight. They’d been staked anywhere and everywhere—in front of homes, along sidewalks, around the local high school. Each featured just a few uplifting words in simple black type: “Don’t Give Up,” “You Are Worthy of Love,” “Your Mistakes Do Not Define You.” The high school in Newberg, Oregon, had lost two students and four alumni to suicide that year, so the town of 25,000 instantly understood the messages. For days, what no one could figure out was who had planted them.
Amy Wolff had. At first, she didn’t want anyone to connect her to them. For one thing, the 36-year-old mother of two didn’t really feel it was her place to weigh in. She had done so, in part, because she’d lost her own teenage brother in an accident about 20 years earlier, and she felt compelled to address Newberg’s grief. She planted the signs anonymously because she wanted them to be about their message, not any one person. It was compassion for compassion’s sake. “I couldn’t just do nothing,” says Wolff. “I’m not qualified, but gosh darn it, I can print yard signs.”
Yet as Wolff saw the deep chord her signs struck with her neighbors, she decided to step forward to share her message publicly. Instantly, her inbox was flooded with requests for more signs. She asked a friend, graphic designer Jessica Brittell, to mock up and print another batch. And then another. And another. And another. “We decided to just ride it out and not push it; just keep going until the orders stop,” says Wolff. “That ended up being an inside joke because it never stopped.”
That was in May 2017. Since then, the Don’t Give Up Movement has spread from Newberg to the hearts and yards of people in every state and several countries. The signs have morphed into wristbands, bumper stickers, pins, stamps, and temporary tattoos. Wolff charges only the cost of materials and shipping. “It’s a terrible business decision if we wanted to function like a business,” she says.
One of the most heartening elements of the Don’t Give Up Movement is that it has gone viral in a remarkably human way. People have taken to planting the signs in their lawns, taking selfies, and then posting them to share.
Chrisanne Moger commented on one of the movement’s Instagram posts about the need for one particular sign: “We’re All in This Together.” She thought it would really speak to a world huddling together under the cloud of COVID-19. Wolff agreed, and she received 750 orders within a week of its creation. A mother in Colorado contacted the organization after her stepson’s sudden death to say that her family, unable to travel during the quarantine, couldn’t attend the funeral. “We aren’t able to be together to love, support, and help each other heal,” she wrote. “I saw one of your signs recently and it was a gut-punch message from above to hang on.”
Aware of the added emotional challenges isolation brings, the Don’t Give Up Movement has since offered to send handwritten letters of support to anyone in quarantine who needs it. The group received about 400 requests in just 24 hours. A young woman in New Jersey wrote that she struggles with mental illness and that shelter-in-place rules were especially hard on her and her family; she asked whether the Don’t Give Up group could send her relatives a cheerful note.
One special education teacher in Texas used the campaign to teach a lesson in unity after his classroom moved online. Isaiah Brown created care packages stocked with Don’t Give Up goodies, including wristbands on which he’d written a student’s name alongside his own. He then drove to his students’ homes to drop the packages on their doorsteps. Some of the kids were so excited to get the surprise delivery that they ran outside to see Brown through his car window.
The next time his class gathered online, the students couldn’t stop chattering about how happy the gifts had made them—one student gleefully declared he would never take his wristband off. “It was the best feeling in the world, that I could have an impact outside of school by using these products,” says Brown. “This was a good way to let them know that we care even when we can’t see them.”
Wolff’s message is about to grow yet again. After seeing her signs online, a literary agent called to negotiate a book deal. Signs of Hope: How Small Acts of Love Can Change Your World will be out next spring, after some last-minute revisions. “I rewrote the last chapter in the middle of the outbreak, not knowing how long this will go on for,” Wolff shares. “But there has never been a more drastic backdrop to the power of hope and empathetic action than right now.” Next, read these stories of neighbors helping during COVID-19 that will inspire you to do the same.