By JOHN FORTMEYER, CNNW publisher
NEWBERG — Amy Wolff couldn’t quite believe what she found herself doing on a rainy, dreary day here in 2017.
“I thought to myself, ‘This is the dumbest idea I’ve ever had.’ ’’ she recalled as she told her story to hundreds April 6 at the Newberg-Dundee Mayors Prayer Breakfast at Newberg’s Chehalem Cultural Center. “But I was $120 into it, so I did it anyway.”
The $120 went toward an initial batch of simple signs, with extremely brief messages, that Wolff had a graphic designer friend make with the crazy belief that some Newberg residents might be willing to post them in their yards. With the help of her husband and two young daughters, Wolff knocked on about 20 doors near the high school, and explained what the signs were about.
“They, without hesitation, took my sign,” she said, the amazement still evident in her voice almost two years later.
What Wolff and those living near the school obviously shared was a deep concern over a very troubling trend in their city — a rash of teen suicides that showed how badly the signs’ messages of hope were needed. Messages like “Don’t Give Up,” “You Matter,” “Your Mistakes Do Not Define You,” and “You Are Worthy of Love.”
In only a few hours the entire Newberg community was buzzing on social media about the signs, and within four days Wolff had received 100 orders for more signs to be placed throughout the city.
Thus began what in a stunningly short time has become a global phenomenon. Wolff’s “dumb idea” has proven to be anything but — with the lawn signs of hope spreading to all 50 states, 22 nations and 10 languages. The messages also have become available not only in signs but also on decals, pencils, wristbands and pins through the non-profit Don’t Give Up Movement.
To date, these items have become “215,000 tokens of love and hope around the world,” Wolff said.
A George Fox University alumna who attends Northside Community Church in Newberg, Wolff is a speaker coach at Distinction Communication Inc., a company she co-owns with her father Jim Endicott. In addition to coaching business professionals, she is also a TEDx speaker coach for TEDxPortland.
By now, Wolff has accumulated many stories about the life-changing, life-saving impact the movement is having both nationally and globally. It is from her devout faith in Christ and a heart that reflects His compassion that Wolff began the signs project. But — and this might have surprised some attending the Christ-centered prayer breakfast — Wolff said the signs are deliberately not meant to candidly proclaim the good news of the Gospel.
In fact, when one of Wolff’s daughters suggested that “Jesus Loves You” could be a message on the signs, Wolff gently explained to her why she won’t let that happen. Wolff’s concern is that if the signs are overtly religious, “then some people won’t accept them, because they will think there are strings attached.”
Instead, the signs are meant to serve as a first step in opening up communication and consideration about basic ideas of love, hope and acceptance. From that foundation, real person-to-person encouragement with the truths of God can then be offered.
“Yard signs don’t effectively spread the Gospel — we do,” Wolff said. The important thing in building such relationships, Wolff said, is to offer “generous love to everyone always” – even those who may have sharply different opinions on things. She told of a Facebook friend of hers named Missy, who started getting hateful messages from her own circle of friends because she had dared to open communication with Wolff, a Christian.
“Missy’s generous love defends me,” Wolff said. “Maybe generous love looks like sitting with people you disagree with. Empathy is not endorsement. We do not need to agree on everything but we need to genuinely care.”
And with that caring attitude, believers in Christ can at an appropriate point “be bold, We share His name — it is Jesus — our surest hope,” Wolff said.
For more information on the Don’t Give Up Movement, go to www.dontgiveupsigns.com