ONTARIO — Members of the Malheur County Prevention Coalition and Malheur County Juvenile Department aimed to spread hope through positive messages during a rally, dubbed Signs of Hope which was held Sept. 10. Members of the coalition spread out throughout Ontario, including near the Wal-Mart area on West Idaho Avenue, while members of the juvenile department hit the one-way streets in Vale that bring travelers in and out of town to offer messages of positivity. The reason: suicide prevention awareness. Signs included messages such as ‘Don’t give up,’ ‘You matter,’ ‘You are worthy of love,’ and ‘You are enough.’

While the entire month of September is dedicated to preventing suicide, a week is also dedicated to prevention from Sept. 5-11, 2021. During the month, mental health advocates, prevention organizations, survivors, allies and community members work together to promote suicide prevention awareness.

Judi Trask, prevention coordinator for Malheur County, stated that they were still trying to calculate the number of cars that passed by in the 9 hours they were set up, but says it was easily in the thousands.

“I cannot express enough how the event impacted us as well as the many people who drove by, stopped to share, etc.,” she said, adding that “Malheur County was one step ahead of Oregon on this one.”

Trask explained that while this was the first year for the Signs of Hope rally for the state of Oregon, Malheur County Prevention Coalition sponsored several of the events in 2020, including chalk art events, as they were unable to hold the annual Hands Around the Park for Recovery, due to COVID-19. That event will take place from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Laxon Park in Ontario.

While Lifeways is the fiscal sponsor for Malheur County Prevention, the latter is the fiscal sponsor for the coalition, not Lifeways as some people mistakenly believe. However, several members of the coalition work at Lifeways, says Paula Olvera, including herself.

“The coalition consists of an awesome group of community partners and members who are working together to make Malheur County a healthier place for our families,” Trask said.

Olvera shared feedback coalition members received from passersby throughout the day, including those who had been contemplating suicide or who had lost someone to it.

Among these people was an older man who stopped by to tell them that he had slept under a tree near the river and had been contemplating suicide. But when he walked over the hill and saw the signs held up by coalition members, his hope was renewed.

Olvera said the man told them it was ““The good Lord telling me don’t give up, don’t ever give up.”

A woman who had just come from the funeral of a young man who died by suicide stopped to thank the group, Olvera said, providing them money for lunch and telling them through tears how important their work was. There were others who brought bottles of water, and a young EMT who brought gift cards to Dutch Bros to show her appreciation, she said. And one woman even purchased a sign from the group for her own yard.

Two young men stopped by to offer their gratitude, with one of the men recognizing what the signs were for as soon as he had seen them. Olvera said he told them he just lost his brother to suicide three months ago, and a friend from work a few weeks ago.

One man said he loved the signs and messages and showed them a bracelet he wears that reads: “It’s OK to not be OK.”

“Countless people honked, waved, blew kisses, gave a thumbs up, and shouted ‘Thank you’ as they drove by,” Olvera said, adding that it was “such a feel-good thing to be a part of.”

While they may never know how many people they were able to reach through the sign rally, she said the hope is that they were there “at just the right moment for someone,” adding that “if one life was saved it was so worth it!”

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