“I love the rain,” Newport resident Jennifer Ortiz said as a sudden summer storm announced its arrival with a rumble of thunder. She stood with her signs, covered with messages of hope and encouragement, near a four-way intersection in the city. “Many times when I see signs, it rains. It gets hot here and I feel like the rain is just God letting me know he’s there for me.”
For the past two months, Ortiz has handwritten and placed signs with positive messages such as “Your mental health matters,” “You are not alone” and “Reach out” throughout Perry County.
“There are some in Duncannon, Landisburg, Loysville and Dauphin,” Ortiz said. “Sometimes they come off, and I also go around and take them off after the weather changes. Wherever God leads me, He calls me what to put and where to put them.”
Ortiz was inspired to start putting up the signs by her own mental health journey. “Honestly, one day I was making a therapy appointment on my phone and I remember mentioning that I want to put mental health awareness signs out there, and that’s how it started.
“I’m connected to a lot of people and a lot of the stuff I put out there I want to hear myself. It’s the way I feel about everyone. We are all worthy, we all matter. We just need more awareness of mental health.
“I want people to have hope so that they can be the best version of themselves and be able to help others around them. When I’m in trouble and I help others, it helps me at the same time.”
She began her efforts in Newport. “When I first started it was just a big sign because I come out here and carry them as well. One day I put the sign up next to the four way street in Newport and it stayed there for weeks. Since then, she claims to have made 300 signs, some being replacements for older, weather-damaged signs. Ortiz works mostly alone, although her daughter sometimes helps.
Her message has not gone unnoticed. Mayor of Newport, Robert Campbell, said: “Jenny’s signs send a positive message to everyone. Everyone is involved and can benefit from her positive outlook. It is a joy to have Jenny as a Newport resident.”
Ortiz’s joy is seeing how her signs impact her community. “Some people look at the signs and take it in their stride,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of people tell me they’re going to give up until they see the signs, and things like that. There were times when I thought I shouldn’t do this, but God always gives me a sign that I should keep doing it.
“All it takes is one person who needs it,” she said. “I know I’ve been driving down the road feeling alone and I’d like to see a sign. We all matter and we are all worthy. I’m not trying to be professional; I just love them all. I know how it feels in many different situations.”
Perry County partners with Cumberland County to provide mental health services to residents. Cumberland-Perry Mental Health, Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities offers a variety of services to those seeking care, including crisis intervention and a case management program. The case management program helps patients who are struggling to find and access care and provides support for those working toward recovery.
Individuals seeking non-crisis mental health services may contact one of the MH.IDD case management units at Penn State Holy Spirit Hospital, 717-763-2219, or the Merakey Stevens Center, 717-243-6033. When you call either location, ask for pickup and they will have further instructions.
On July 16, Pennsylvania introduced the 988 Helpline, which allows anyone to simply dial 988 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. According to a release from the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, the hotline is free to use and open 24/7. It can be used by anyone who needs support during a suicidal, mental or behavioral health or substance use crisis.
If you are concerned about someone else’s behavior, call 911 if there may be a medical emergency or if the individual is acting threatening or violent. If the behavior is not immediately dangerous, call the crisis intervention helpline on 988.