Pastor Joel “Bud” Dillahunty became concerned several years ago with mental health in the Texarkana community after reading an article about a group of mothers who were concerned about teen suicide rates in their community. In response to the crisis, the mothers came together to create encouraging signs, and it started to make an impact on their community. “Most often people don’t do anything with statistics. But I thought ‘Heck I can put up some signs!’ So my daughter and I ordered a bunch of signs right before the 2019 school year. We started standing around town that summer in 2019, and we met in front of Texas High School a couple of days before the school year started, and that’s when we really started to feel we were making a difference,” said Bud.
“That summer we started standing out in front of Texas High. We didn’t know it then, but we had struck a nerve with some of the community who were still reeling from the death of a loved one. Us standing out there, was just what the community needed in that time,” said Bud. “We immediately had people starting to contact us wanting to buy signs. Some wanted to even come hold signs with us! Over the last few years support has dwindled, but we are still trying our best with Covid to get out and show the community some love,” said Samantha Knox.
If you have recently driven through the Pleasant Grove area, you may have driven past Samantha’s home. Her yard adorns several encouraging signs that read, “You Matter” and “Don’t Give Up,” encouraging words that leave passerby’s smiling and thankful. “We recently moved into this home after several years of ups and downs. Our families life was turned upside down in the last few years, and with these signs, I wanted to ensure that others who drove by would know that whatever they may be going through, it too shall pass,” said Samantha.
After gaining community support over the last few years, Samantha and Bud increased the online presence in their Facebook group by providing encouraging words, information on domestic violence and suicide, and also providing information on how best to support those around you who are suffering. Since the signs have been posted and are still being held by others around town, stories of how they have helped have come pouring in. “Our UPS driver stopped us one day and told us just how much seeing the signs meant to him on his route. Although he didn’t go into detail we could tell it meant the world to him,” said Samantha.
“I have heard from several local teachers that some students have even told them how much the signs mean to them. One student even came to her teacher, a student who is normally very happy and positive, and confided in her teacher about the struggles she had been hiding,” said Bud. “Terry, an agent that I work with got wind of what we were doing with the signs, and he wanted to be apart of it. Now he stands in front of Arkansas High School one day a week holding signs before school. He recently told us about a girl that walked up to him with tears in her eyes, telling him that everyday she looks to see if he is there because whenever she sees him, it brightens her day. She just wanted to give him a hug,” said Samantha. “The signs are still making a difference in our community, but no one is really talking about how mental health has impacted not just adults in our community, but students and young children as well,” said Bud.
“Youth mental health is in a crisis right now. It has been further exposed by the pandemic. While suicide rates went down last year, mental health issues are drastically rising. Kids are not okay right now. I don’t know what the answer is to solve it all, but whatever is going on in our schools and in our communities isn’t working. That’s why we are still holding signs, and we are still encouraging others with positive words. If we can simply hold a sign and save a life, we are going to do it,” said Bud. If you want to get involved, or to purchase signs, you can reach Bud and Samantha by simply visiting the Don’t Give Up ArkLaTex Facebook page.