Signs of Hope during tough times in Malheur County

Susan Gregory, director of the Malheur County Juvenile Department, decorates a chalk message of “YOU MATTER,” part of the 2nd annual Chalk Challenge for National Recovery Month on Thursday, Sept. 9. (The Enterprise/ ABBEY MCDONALD)

VALE – You matter. Don’t give up. You are enough.

Those were the messages of support given to the communities of Vale and Ontario on Thursday, Sept. 9.

The Malheur County Prevention Coalition held two Signs of Hope rallies last week as part of a state-wide initiative during Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and National Recovery Month. It is one of three events this month.

The messages of support were much needed for some community members, said Paula Olvera, prevention specialist at Lifeways.

“We have gotten some incredible stories from people,” Olvera said. She said a passerby in Ontario had talked to her about their personal struggles with suicidal thoughts, and one man told her the message gave him hope at exactly the right time.

“I think that this community has a lot of under-advantaged people – everywhere from homelessness to problems with addiction – and I think it means to each individual person, what it needs to mean,” Olvera said.

“We figure if we touch one person’s life, it’s worth it,” she said.

Amy Wolff of Newberg began the Signs of Hope campaign in 2017, and it has since become an international movement.

Jennifer Schaffer, a member of the prevention coalition and senior probation counselor at the Malheur County Juvenile Department, said the event was a way to support the community during the pandemic.

“I felt like we had to do something,” Schaffer said.

Her fingers were stained blue and green with chalk from writing “YOU MATTER” on the sidewalk of Washington Street in Vale. Employees from the Malheur County Juvenile Department and the Malheur County District Attorney’s Office held signs there.

Cesar Perales, Crystal Dionne and Liliana Martinez of the Malheur County Juvenile Department hold up signs with positive messages as cars enter Vale. Crystal plays upbeat 80s music from her phone as they wave and cheer. (The Enterprise/ ABBEY MCDONALD)

She said the departments’ recent shift to focus on prevention and mental health has been positive for the community. As she spoke, she smiled and waved at passing cars that honked and cheered for the signs.

“We do want to intervene before they come into our system,” Schaffer said. “Prevention saves all of us in the long run.”

Chalk art with positive messages will spring up around the community in front of homes and businesses throughout September, as part of the second annual Chalk Challenge for National Recovery Month.

The Malheur County Prevention Coalition is also hosting Hands Around the Park on Thursday, Sept. 16, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at Laxson Park in Ontario. The event is in celebration of National Recovery Month, and is free for all ages. It will have speakers, music, food and kids’ activities.

For more information, visit the Malheur County Prevention Coalition’s Facebook, or email [email protected].

Anyone having thoughts of suicide is urged to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Locally, Lifeways has a 24-hour crisis line at 541-889-9167.

News tip? Contact reporter Abbey McDonald at [email protected]

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