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Lincoln Receives Several Message of Hope from Above

Date: February 09, 2004



Lincoln Journal Star, February 5, 2004

Lincoln receives several messages of hope from up above
By Colleen Kenney / Lincoln Journal Star

Super man.


The billboard's words intrigued the man sitting in his van Saturday afternoon on West O Street, waiting for the light.

The yellow Dollar General blocked the rest of the billboard. So he rolled his van forward a bit.

That's when he saw the picture of Christopher Reeve, a tracheotomy tube in his neck.

"I looked at him -- Superman -- and thought, `Look what he's been through,'" said John Stevens of Pleasant Dale. "I thought, `Look at that fortitude, that forward direction, and how he's not giving up or crawling under a rock into self-pity."

That's true strength, he says, and true strength doesn't come from muscles or super men of this world.

To Stevens, that strength comes from Jesus Christ.

Seven months ago, John and his wife lost their 41-year-old daughter, Tandra Dowling. She had a heart attack. It was about 5 a.m. She'd been giving her newborn his bottle. The sun hadn't come up yet in the farmhouse south of Palmyra, her dream house she and her husband, Dale, had just finished renovating.

Dale heard a thump and came running. Tandra was dead before the ambulance arrived.

The baby had fallen, too. But he'd landed safely on his mother's legs.

You live long enough, says Stevens, a 63-year-old shift supervisor at the People's City Mission, and you'll live through tragedy.

You'll need strength.

The poorest of the city's poor walk along West O Street every day, heading toward the People's City Mission. Stevens has worked with many of them, heard their stories, prayed with them.

Some walk with addictions, some walk with mental illness. Many want to give up. But don't.

Stevens hopes they look up.

"That's a nice, positive message up there. A nice sign."

Farther down West O, other billboards promote other positive messages.


What made Gandhi Gandhi. Soul.

Mother Teresa.

Reaching beyond yourself. Compassion.

Kermit the Frog.

Eats flies. Dates a pig. Hollywood star. Live your dreams.

About 56 such billboards have popped up around the city in the past few months, put up by a group called The Foundation for a Better Life.

Some of the billboard heroes aren't famous. Like the guy who donated bone marrow or the quadriplegic who's pulling an A-minus at Harvard or the woman who sent 19 poor kids to college. ...

Some are famous. Across from Lincoln High, there's a billboard of Winston Churchill.

Never, never, never give up. Commitment.

On North 27th Street near Vine -- Abraham Lincoln.

Failed. Failed. Failed. Succeeded. Persistence.

Stevens saw the Lincoln sign one day. He wondered who was behind the billboards.

He'd wondered about this Foundation for a Better Life, the words written in small letters on each billboard.

Gary Dixon, foundation president, says a Denver family -- one that wants to remain anonymous -- started the foundation a few years back to build character in people without demanding anything.

The foundation doesn't raise money, he said. It doesn't seek membership. It doesn't promote any particular religion or cause, just values of humanity.

"It's simply reminders," Dixon said.

Celebrities donate their faces. The ad executive who came up with the "Got Milk" campaign, Jay Schulberg, headed up the advertising team that created the slogans.

The first billboards went up in November 2001 in Times Square, two months after the Sept. 11 attacks. One showed a New York firefighter covered in debris.


When others ran out. He rushed in. Courage.

One showed a little blond girl on her father's shoulders. She's waving an American flag.


What makes us great. Unity.

Billboard companies (Lamar Outdoor Advertising in Lincoln) put up the messages as a public service campaign wherever they have vacant billboards. The effort recently was recognized by the Outdoor Advertising Association as the most successful public service campaign in its history.

The foundation has 21 billboard images, on 10,000 billboards up throughout the nation right now. It plans to have 56 images in all. It also does TV spots.

"Someone asked us the other day, `Do you think you'll ever run out of heroes?'" Dixon said. "I said, `I don't think so. There are lots of heroes out there.'

"I think you could go into Lincoln, Nebraska, and you could replace all the billboards we've got with an equally great story, of people who have done remarkable things without expecting any credit."

Maybe it's a man struggling with addiction, walking through the snow along West O.

Or a sleepy mother, feeding her baby in the dark before dawn.

Or a grieving family, finding super-human strength to look up.

Stevens especially liked three other words on the billboards, after each message of hope:


Pass it on.


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