SPOKANE, Wash. — A powerful movement started with a Spokane man’s dream and a trip to the Dollar Store for a permanent marker and sign.
Terrance Nelson helped spearhead a Facebook group called Great Community, which boasts nearly 700 members. In June, he started the Signs of Hope movement where people hold signs reading “You Matter” and “#BeGreaterLiveGreater” on street corners in Spokane and Spokane Valley. He said some of his friends in North Idaho hold signs in their area, too.
Nelson stood at Division and Francis, Division and 2nd and Sprague and Pines alone at first before others joined him. Now two teams of people wave, shout words of encouragement and hold signs every Saturday in those same areas.
A recent post on Spokane Reddit shows Nelson holding a "You Matter" sign on Division and Francis. It has since received many comments and hundreds of upvotes.
Nelson said his desire to impact his community began at the young age of 9 years old when he read a story about a woman who died by suicide after jumping off a bridge in Chicago.
“She said if one person smiled at her, she wouldn’t do it. She walked ten miles and no one smiled at her,” he said. “I always wanted to do something that would impact somebody and that’s part of my why in life: To bring hope to people that are hopeless.”
“I just wanted to make people’s day and let people know that they do matter,” he added.
But Nelson’s desire to impact his community is also deeply personal. He serves as the outreach coordinator at Spokane’s Adult and Teen Challenge campus, which works with men 18 to 55 who are struggling with addiction or other life-altering issues.
Nelson is a graduate of the program who was once in the same position as many of these men. He moved to Spokane in 2010 after struggling with meth addiction in Anchorage, Alaska, and is now nine years sober.
He said he is on “cloud nine” after he recently bought a house in Spokane that he shares with his wife and four children. Now he wants to share that joy with others.
“Not only do I want to get something out of life, I want to give something back in life,” Nelson said.
The Signs of Hope movement also serves as a conversation starter about community mental health and Nelson hopes it will continue to break down barriers.
“All the walls they need to come down…We all need to sit down and hash this thing out because we have a common enemy, which is addiction for one, and a common struggle, which is mental illness,” he said.
Friday brought cold temperatures and snowfall to the Inland Northwest. But that did not stop Nelson from sharing his message in Spokane Valley. He stood on the corner of Sprague and Pines with a smile, sign and positive attitude while he chatted with KREM 2.
“In snow, rain, sleet, smoke, hot, cold, there’s somebody out there having a horrible day. Horrible days don’t just stop because of the weather,” he said. “People still need to know they matter no matter what the weather is like. We understand that it’s been almost in the zero, single digits but we’re still out there.”
During the summer fire season, Nelson said he and others involved in the movement continued their mission while wearing masks.
Despite the cold temperatures, Signs of Hope volunteers do not accept donations like hot drinks or gloves. Nelson wants people to instead give those things to people in the community who need them most.
“We want to impact the community. But the biggest reason is we’re here to give, we aren’t here to take anything. We’d actually like it if you gave it to somebody else who could use it,” he said.
Nelson’s advice for those who want to make a difference in their community: Get out from behind the computer screen.
“Stop spectating and start participating. You know, so many times we like a post and think we are doing our part and sharing a great message by just liking a post. But really you don’t impact your community until you do something,” he said.
Moving forward, Nelson hopes to put “You Matter” billboards up around Spokane. On March 15, Great Community is hosting a benefit concert at The Pin in downtown Spokane where people will share their personal stories about Signs of Hope.