Juneau nonprofit hands out yard signs with positive messages to comfort the community

Two Juneau high school students pose with signs displaying positive messages during a 'Take a Time Out to Talk' event in 2020.
Two Juneau high school students pose with signs displaying positive messages during a ‘Take a Time Out to Talk’ event in 2020. (Photo courtesy of Melissa McCormick)

The social isolation caused by COVID-19 has many people feeling Zoom fatigue and yearning for real-life interactions. But for those who struggle with mental health disorders, the isolation can feel amplified. 

September is also Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, so one Juneau resident is focused on spreading positive messages throughout the community. 

Melissa McCormick spends a lot of her time trying to lift people up, in part because she knows what it’s like to experience loss.

Speier McCormick (Photo courtesy of the McCormick family)
Speier McCormick (Photo courtesy of the McCormick family)

Her son, Speier, struggled with bipolar disorder for years before taking his own life in October of 2017. 

“We always said that Speier had a fire inside of him,” she said. “He had a lot of passion about a lot of things that he was working on.”

With that sentiment as her inspiration, McCormick founded a nonprofit in 2018 called Find Your Fire. The organization aims to help young adults find their passions, learn life skills and develop strong mental health foundations.

“We tell them to be you and not anybody else,” McCormick said. “You’re basically already enough.”

Timi Tullis and Melissa McCormick pose with 'don't give up' signs during an event at the University of Alaska Southeast.
Timi Tullis and Melissa McCormick pose with ‘don’t give up’ signs during an event at the University of Alaska Southeast. (Photo courtesy of Melissa McCormick)

Now McCormick is distributing yard signs with similar sentiments to homes all over Juneau, in hopes of reminding others that they’re not alone.

“The more popular ones are ‘we’re all in this together,’ ‘you matter,’ ‘don’t give up,’ ‘you are enough,’ ‘you are worthy of love,'” McCormick said.

Although she’s had the signs since 2018, they grew in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic. So far this year, McCormick has distributed more than 400 signs to people who requested them.

“One gentleman, in particular, came up to me and asked me if I was the one who helped put the signs up in Juneau and I said ‘yes’ and he said ‘well your sign just saved my life,’” McCormick said.

The man had been struggling with his mental health and after seeing the sign, sought help from JAMHI.

“So it was one of those moments where you just get those chills and think, ‘Wow, I may have made a difference in one person’s life with just a simple message,'” McCormick said.

Jaeleen Kookesh poses with a 'you are worthy of love sign' provided by the Find Your Fire organization.
Jaeleen Kookesh poses with a ‘you are worthy of love sign’ provided by the Find Your Fire organization. (Photo courtesy of Melissa McCormick)

Last month, McCormick took to Facebook to promote the signs for Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. The response was overwhelming and she’s had to beef up her sign orders.

“We do give [the signs] away,” she said. “There’s not a charge. Occasionally people will make a donation but it’s not required. We are a little bit low on our funding, but it’s always nice to see them in the community.”

For the most part, McCormick has used the money she’d set aside for Speier’s college fund to pay for the signs. 

Juneau resident Casey DenAdel asked McCormick for a ‘you matter’ sign to put in her window.

Juneau resident Casey DenAdel poses with a 'you matter' sign she displays in her window.
Juneau resident Casey DenAdel poses with a ‘you matter’ sign she displays in her window. (Photo courtesy of Casey DenAdel)

“I am somebody who lived through a suicide attempt and I have two really close family members who also lived through attempts,” DenAdel said. “So it’s a subject that’s really near and dear to my heart.”

The other side of her sign says ‘don’t give up,’ so DenAdel flips it over from time to time, alternating messages. 

“By putting signs up, it gets it out there that it’s okay to talk about mental health issues and that people aren’t alone in this,” she said. “There are so many of us who think that there’s something wrong with us when there are just so many more of us than you think there are – we’re normal people.”

DenAdel plans to keep the sign in her window, not just for September, but for the foreseeable future. 

Those who’d like to order a sign can visit findyourfire.net or email findyourfire907@gmail.com.

If you or someone you know is dealing with thoughts of suicide, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or the Alaska Careline any time of day or night at 877-266-HELP. 

Bridget Dowd

Local News Reporter, KTOO

I keep tabs on what’s happening in Juneau’s classrooms for the families they serve and the people who work in them. My goal is to shine a light on both stories of success and the cracks that need to be filled, because I believe a good education is the basis of a strong community.

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