Across Gainesville, green, blue and orange signs are reminding residents and passersby that they are welcome to the city.
“It gives us a sense of solidarity and hope,” said Eve MacMaster, whose husband, Richard MacMaster, chairs Welcoming Gainesville, a nonprofit organization heading up the effort to spread the signs to yards across the city.
The signs read: “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor” in Spanish, English and Arabic. As far as Eve MacMaster knows, the sign in front of her church, Emmanuel Mennonite, was the first one in Gainesville. MacMaster, a pastor at the church, and her husband, began offering the signs for a $10 donation.
On Monday at 4 p.m., the organization will be giving one to Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe, as a gesture to prove the city is welcoming.
MacMaster said she was initially worried they would have an excess amount of signs left over. Instead, her husband has had to order more. She estimated they have sold more than 100 signs. Members of her congregation have purchased the signs in passing, as well as other groups the church hosts at their location, at 1236 NW 18th Ave.
The signs serve as a small gesture, one that helps produce change from the bottom up, like an oak tree, she said.
“Whatever color, race, religion you are, you’re my neighbor,” she said simp
Gabe Lara, interim associate director of Multicultural and Diversity Affairs Division of Student Affairs at UF, said the signs are extremely important for underrepresented minority groups in Gainesville. It would help reassure them that they are welcome to the city.
“I think it’s an extremely positive message,” Lara said, adding that he’d like to see them everywhere, including UF.
Welcoming Gainesville is part of the nationwide effort Welcoming America, which aims to promote inclusiveness for new residents in cities. The multi-language signs gained national attention after photos and remakes of it were picked up by national news outlets, MacMaster said.
When Suzanne Dabage, 19, began getting involved with Welcoming Gainesville, she did it with her parents who immigrated from Colombia in mind.
The UF business administration sophomore will be the one to hand Poe the sign during the event today at City Hall, something she said she is looking forward to.
“Being involved with this really made me feel like I could do something,” she said.
Poe said he’s thrilled to work with Welcoming Gainesville to spread the message of community.
“This is just the next step bringing this message to the public,” Poe said of the organization’s efforts to promote an inclusive community.
After he receives the sign, Poe said he’ll leave it in his office to serve as a reminder for anyone coming to his office that Gainesville is a welcoming city.
“I think it sends a really positive message,” he said. “It brings out the fact that before anything else, we’re neighbors.”