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Don’t Give Up Movement

I recently interviewed Amy Wolff, the President and founder of the Don’t Give Up Movement. I was inspired and impacted by the work her organization is doing to promote kindness and hope in communities across the globe. Keep reading to learn more about this incredible initiative and how you can continue to spread the message!

Can you tell us about your organization. What inspired you to start this global movement?

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. 

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 products: wristbands, stickers, encouragement cards - selling everything at-cost…

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. 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. Our product has shipped to all 50 states and made its way to 26 countries in 6 different languages.

In addition, we are a 501c3 nonprofit organization with 3 people sitting on the Board: myself (founder), Evangeline Pattison (friend/nonprofit consultant in real life) and Jessica Brittell (our graphic designer and product queen). We're a small operation with big hearts :)

How has your life changed since starting the Don’t Give Up Movement? What challenges and/or triumphs do you now face? 

Since the movement started, my life has been more full - logistically but also emotionally. When I was 14, my brother passed away and I remember feeling so strongly that I need to make my life count - no matter how many years I had. So this movement has changed me for the good in defining some of my legacy - of pure unadulterated no-strings-attached love and goodness being spread everywhere! That fills me with a lot of humility, gratitude, and purpose. An unexpected challenge with the movement has been watching others copy us instead of joining us. We didn’t set out to make a profit or trademark signs of hope, but it's been a movement born out of such intention, purity, and passion, that to see people do the exact same design and messages in the exact same way feels dishonoring. Checking my emotions, having some awkward but lovely conversations with other do-gooders who have completely understood and trusted our intentions, has been an interesting challenge. It's probably the most emotionally taxing part. That and reading people's stories of enduring suffering or losing a loved one. Because of my personal grief and loss, I'm able to respond without trying to solve their suffering. Sometimes all we need is, "I'm so sorry. I'm here for you." I'm honored to hear people's stories and offer them a kind word.

Gosh, the triumphs... I'm still blown away how simple hope-filled words on signs or decals or wristbands can dramatically impact people. To hear how our token of love, spread through some generous soul, reached someone at the right place at the right time, is sometimes wonderfully overwhelming. At times, encounters have changed the trajectory of someone's life - encouraged them to restart a dream career, leave an abusive relationship, and ward off harmful ideation.

As you run the organization without the help of any volunteers, how do you cope with times of stress or busyness? What do you do to practice self-care?

The balance: There was a point where I felt running the movement, fulfilling orders, posting online, updating the website, responding to messages, was taking over any margin in my life. I'm a young mom. I'm a small business owner of a successful company that requires travel. I already volunteer in my daughters' schools and at church, even leading teams to Rwanda every year. I was already busy, so adding the movement was nuts, BUT so worth it. One of the best big shifts towards protecting the margin in my life so I wasn't fulfilling orders between getting my girls on the bus, running my other day-job business, making dinner, and bedtimes, was moving the movement and all its supplies into an office space. We incurred some overhead costs, which meant we added on a few pennies to product here and there to cover, but we still make zero profit! Now I go to the office a few days a week, process orders and respond to messages, and drive home. I also started asking for help. I'm a do-er and sometimes find it faster and easier to just do things myself but I was in over my head. I asked my neighbors, friends, and my mom to help bundle wristbands and encouragement cards and they showed up! What's more beautiful, a lot of them got their kids involved, making good conversation about why these messages encourage people and how they can help.  And lastly, without my husband's support, I couldn't do it all. I meet girlfriends for dinners or weekends away, to recharge my soul, and my husband doesn't flinch. He's put our daughters to bed many nights while I pounded through Don’t Give Up orders!

Has anyone ever contacted you with a personal story of how your organization has positively impacted them or a loved one? Do you mind sharing the story with us?

So. Many. Stories. Our website has a scrolling quote board of sorts - click through those. Or even easier, check out our instagram  - @dontgiveupsigns - more than half of our posts/captions are people's stories (with permission). They're incredibly powerful. 

Do you have any advice for someone who is wanting to make a difference in their own community? 

A literary agent and publisher both approached me about writing a book about the movement and my passion to do that is so others feel empowered to make a difference. We didn't put 20 yard signs out on May 13th, 2017 thinking it would become a thing. And I had toyed with the idea for years and years before acting on it. Don't ignore those repetitive thoughts. At some point, you choose to take small action, even if you think it may be silly (I almost didn't put out the signs after loading them in my trunk because it suddenly all felt too foolish and stupid, but I did it anyway). We can’t be all things to all people, so choose something that really stirs your heart and take a small action. Don't wait for someone more qualified or more 'put together' to do impactful things. It's you, as you are, that can make a difference. And lastly, rally the people around you to help! Make it a group effort!

What’s next for the Don’t Give Up Movement? 

A book! We're hoping to have it done by 2020. We're also wanting to get more sponsored billboards (a hard ask when we refuse to let anyone brand them with their logos or websites!) and if I were to dream really big - a white hot air balloon with 2 huge black words spotted from a mile away: YOU MATTER. Wouldn't that be a sight to see?! In truth, every ounce of growth/spread in the movement has been organic. No marketing. No sought-after PR. No branding on our products. We go where the movement takes us!