Spokanite Shares Roadside Reminders About Hope and Resilience

by Jessica Simpkins, MD

In a world that feels increasingly overwhelming and unpredictable, we all need a little more hope. One individual has been spreading messages of hope and resilience one sign at a time. Aaron Reese is a Spokane local who stood at a roundabout near Five Mile Road in Spokane holding a sign with a positive message for passersby to enjoy every Monday morning for 52 weeks straight.

“People are my passion. I love encouraging people, and I just want to be a life-hype guy,” Aaron says with a smile and a shrug. Aaron was born in Tampa, FL and grew up on the Fairchild Air Base. Following his father’s footsteps, he joined the Air National Guard in 2005. This March will mark his 18th year of service.

Aaron Reese

Aaron Reese, photo by Val Mohney

“I am a member of the Homeland Response Force. We fall under FEMA Region 10 and provide extra manpower for local government and civilian organizations who need our help during natural and man-made disasters and emergencies. I’m currently the First Sergeant of the 116th Air Support Operation Squadron at Camp Murray,” Aaron explains.

When asked about the inspiration for his peculiar Monday morning routine, Aaron brings up his two children. “My daughter was in 5th grade when the pandemic started. She was so excited to graduate from elementary school and start middle school, but the shutdown really squashed that. What I watched her go through was like a bad breakup without closure.”

Aaron had been toying with the idea of creating signs with positive messages for others to see, and brought up the idea to his wife, Kayla. “I thought for sure Kayla would tell me I was crazy, but she said I should do it! That Sunday I went to Michael’s craft store and bought a bright yellow trifold and drew the message with black sharpie. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so it took me five hours to finish. The next morning after I dropped my son off at school, I stood at the roundabout near Five Mile and held my sign for people to see.”

“At first I was only going to do this for a month. I bought some stencils which made the process easier. Three weeks in, I was talking with my small group at church about what I’d been doing, and I discovered one of the church staff had seen my signs. She told me one Monday morning she’d received the news her mother-in-law was diagnosed with stage IV cancer and was feeling incredibly overwhelmed. Then she took a wrong turn on her way to work and happened to see me holding my very first sign, which read “Whatever it is, you got this!” Reading that gave her hope that her family would find a way to manage,” Aaron shares.

“That’s when I knew I had to do this for an entire year. I’ve heard other heartfelt stories from people about the hope they’ve had when they stumbled across me holding one of my signs. I had regulars who’d drive by just to see me on Monday mornings. It’s also been a great experience for my kids to get involved. I keep all of my signs in the back of my car, and sometimes when I drop off my kids at school they want to stand on the sidewalk for other families to receive these positive messages as they drive up. Other students will walk up and join in,” Aaron says with a smile.

When asked what his inspiration was for creating street signs, Aaron laughs and says, “I just liked the idea of creating a little positive chaos in the world. Most people when they see someone holding up a sign on a street corner expect it’s a person asking for money. I wanted to catch people off guard and shake them up a little in an uplifting way. My family and I decided to call these Roadside Reminders.”

At Christmas time, Aaron invited people to make their own signs and join him at the roundabout to share cheer with others. “I wore a Buddy the Elf onesie, about 15 people showed up, and we had a blast holding signs, talking with each other, and drinking hot chocolate.” After concluding the 52nd week of Roadside Reminders, the Reese’s enjoyed a vacation to DisneyLand for some quality family time.

“I plan to get back out there again once it warms up, and visit other locations throughout Spokane,” Aaron says. He’s also been hungry to find other opportunities to make a difference in the lives of others in the community. “Sharing messages of hope is great, but I want to encourage people to do more than simply hope… to go beyond hope and really take action,” Aaron explains.

He is working to launch Project Beyond Hope. His first initiative included raising funds for a local youth organization. “I approached my barber, who is also an artist, and we created stickers with messages of hope to sell and raise money for Teen & Kid Closet. We ultimately raised and donated over $1300,” Aaron shares.

Aaron continues: “What I want people to know is that I’m not special. I had an idea, got some cardboard and a sharpie, and did it! You don’t have to be uniquely talented or have a special skillset to make a difference. Everyone can make a difference!”

Be on the lookout for Aaron with his Roadside Reminders on a street corner near you and reach out to Aaron with questions or comments at projectbeyondhope@gmail.com.