Alaska Life

Community organizers aim to make Anchorage friendlier with welcome signs

Around Anchorage, a small group of community organizers are trying to spread a culture of kindness with bright-yellow posters.

Over the last two weeks Anchorage resident Alyse Galvin and others have been sharing signs with a simple message: "All are welcome here."

Galvin decided to start posting the signs after struggling with what she called "divisive feelings" in the aftermath of the presidential election. Along with the welcome message in big, bold letters, there is a small statement of purpose.

"We respect ALL people. We stand united with our community and will not tolerate disrespect, uncivil discourse or discrimination. We encourage kindness. Hate has no business here."

The phrase "all are welcome here" is repeated in 10 languages.

She said in a phone interview last week that she's encouraging businesses to keep the signs in their storefront windows. Some bigger-box stores won't allow the signs in front entrances but have allowed them on community bulletin boards.

While the project stems from anxiety related to the election, Galvin said the signs are meant to be apolitical. She said they only serve to indicate that the businesses and homes are a welcoming space.

"It just felt like everyone is so kind of divisive and not feeling good about being here," she said. "And I was trying to think of things we could do that would be giving people hope and maybe have them think about how we're conversing with each other."

So far Galvin has shared more than 100 of the signs around Anchorage and beyond. Through social media contacts she created PDF versions for Juneau and Soldotna and even had requests for the sign in California and North Carolina.

While the message is similar to the Welcome Anchorage campaign sponsored by the city, Galvin's effort is unrelated. Galvin's email is listed as a contact on the posters, but she noted that the goal of the project is to not connect people to posters. It's more about being kind to each other.

"I think people are kind of clinging on and wondering 'what can I do?' " she said. "This is where I was. What can I do that's a positive action?"

About a third of the businesses in the Northway Mall have the signs up. The East Anchorage mall serves many in the Mountain View neighborhood, considered to be one of the nation's most diverse. Many of the shops are owned by minorities, according to mall manager Mao Tosi.

Tosi allowed the signs at the main entrances to the mall. He supports the idea and the grass-roots effort, especially as everyone tries to find their comfort zones in a post-election Anchorage.

"The elections should never stop us from getting up and going to work, or being parents or caring for our community," Tosi said. "Every day, we'll continue."

Many of the shop owners interviewed recently said the signs themselves hadn't really sparked conversations. Some didn't even realize the signs were up.

But AK Phone Repair owner Kenny Lin liked having the sign in his shop. He said people often come in who don't speak English as a first language. The sign, with all the different languages, can give them a sense of welcome. It even makes him feel a little more welcome. Lin, 30, moved to Alaska 10 years ago from China.

"It's good for people from other communities to see," he said.

Cindy McDowell runs The Woodshop, a woodworking store that serves as a fundraiser for the Artistry in Wood annual show at the mall. She thinks Anchorage is full of warm, caring people. She hadn't seen any conversations as a direct result of the sign, but she supports its message.

"It a nice little gesture," McDowell said.

Suzanna Caldwell

Suzanna Caldwell is a former reporter for Alaska Dispatch News and Alaska Dispatch. She left the ADN in 2017.