SAFFORD — “The signs give us an encouraging word and remind us to just be nice to each other.”
That’s what Shirley Turner Chaplin said she wants to come from a new anti-suicide initiative she’s introduced to Safford Unified School District, the Don’t Give Up movement.
“I was in bed, watching the news, and this woman comes on with her daughters and talks about these signs in people’s yards,” Turner Chaplin said. I sat straight up in bed and said, ‘This is wonderful.’ And I called Ken (VanWinkle, SUSD superintendent) to see if this is something we can do.”
Don’t Give Up started in 2017 when a Newberg, Ore., woman, Amy Wolff, decided to put up yard signs with messages of hope after hearing about the inordinant number of suicides her community had experienced.
“The signs say things like, ‘Don’t give up,’ ‘Your mistakes don’t define you’ and ‘You’re worthy of love,’ ” Wolff said in a promotional video on the Don’t Give Up website.
Just a few days after the first 20 signs went up, Wolff said community members requested another 150 signs for their yards. And that led to the message spreading throughout the country. Today, the Don’t Give Up movement is in 25 different states and eight different countries.
In an effort to engage the entire community in the endeavor, VanWinkle invited a number of community stakeholders to the Thursday SUSD governing board meeting where the initiative was rolled out, including members of the Safford City Council, students and the media.
“This is something we want to bring here,” VanWinkle said. “We had our tragedies in 2017 and before, and if there’s anything we can do to make our children understand how important they are, we have to do it.”
In 2017, Safford schools were rocked by two teen suicides in the same week. That year, there were 10 suicides in the Gila Valley and 69 attempts, a 1 in 500 suicide attempt rate. That prompted the Safford School District to initiate the “See something, say something, do something” initiative that encourages communication when a community member exhibits suicidal warning signs.
“Maybe this is us doing the ‘do something’ that’s on our bumper stickers,” VanWinkle said.
Safford City Councilman Arnold Lopez said he plans to help spread the initiative throughout the Gila Valley.
“I’ll help as much as I can. I can see these (as stickers) on our trucks; I can see the football team breaking though this on a banner,” Lopez said. “To say Shirley is passionate about this is an understatement; she’s been in my ear for two weeks.”
Student Kaleb Cordova said he’s also in support of bringing the Don’t Give Up movement to the area.
“I like it. I’d like a helmet sticker,” Cordova said.
VanWinkle said the next step is getting a cross-section of the community to support the movement, including placing signs in yards. He said he’ll be talking with city and Graham County officials, as well as reaching out to his fellow Gila Valley school superintendents.
“Everybody, these days, is overwhelmed with negativity; everybody is thirsty for something better,” SUSD governing board member Diane Junion said.
More information about the Don’t Give Up movement can be found at www.dontgiveupsigns.com.