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Onetime panhandler, now a Portland Community College custodian, says You are Loved

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Ron Beers, a Portland Community College custodian at the Rock Creek Campus, holds a card with a message that reads 'You are loved' that he hands out to students at campus.Ron Beers knows what it’s like to feel like nobody cares.

He’s lived in despair: At one point, he cared for four children, none older than 4, by himself while on welfare.

He’s lived in desperation: Without a home or income, he had to resort to panhandling for diaper money.

A decade ago, Beers decided to make a simple gesture, something that might have helped him when he needed it most and no one else seemed to care.

He started handing out business-sized cards printed with a simple message: “You are loved.”

Since then, the gesture has become something of a movement that has touched tens of thousands of people — more than 60,000 cards have been handed out — including many at the two Portland Community College campuses where Beers has worked for the past 15 years. He currently is a full-time custodian at the Rock Creek campus.

“The most amazing thing out of this whole deal is something so simple and so easy can make a huge difference,” he said.

Beers, now 54 and living in Beaverton, is a high school dropout who earned his GED. He held a variety of jobs, ranging from dishwasher to retail store manager, before difficult circumstances spun him into brushes with homelessness and despondence. He credits his children for keeping him going through the tough times and teaching him to embrace the joy in life.

Things also started turning around for Beers when he was hired as a seasonal cafeteria worker at PCC’s Sylvania Campus in Portland after a college administrator noticed his friendly service at a McDonald’s drive-through window and recommended he apply.

Several years later, while Beers was picking up some hours on a summer janitorial crew at PCC, he and two coworkers batted around ideas about how regular people like them could make a positive difference in the world.TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Ron Beers, a Portland Community College custodian at the Rock Creek Campus, hands out a card with the message 'You are loved' to Hannah Case, a second-year student at PCC.

Together they hit on the idea of creating the “You are loved” message with a label-maker, then later switched to having cards professionally made at the Sylvania Campus print shop. Beers moved on to other PCC jobs but just kept buying the cards and handing them out whenever he felt like someone could use a boost.

“It usually helps,” he said. “I’ve only had one or two people look at me funny.”

A few people assume Beers is passing along a religious message, and indeed some people have asked for cards to share at church, but he doesn’t see it that way.

“I want it to be just from one human being to another,” he said.

He often simply hands someone a card and walks away.

“I really don’t ask for feedback,” said Beers, a tattooed fan of the late Leo Buscaglia, a best-selling self-help author also known as “Dr. Love.” “If you’re waiting for somebody to say ‘Thank you,’ it just defeats the purpose of it.”

And, thanks to many friends who have helped along the way, the cards also have been passed out across the Portland area — some inside baggies of fresh-baked cookies given to homeless people — and as far away as Hong Kong. A friend will soon bring a batch to an event that will help feed the hungry in the Philippines.TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - One tattoo that Ron Beers bears on his arms is Love is Strength and Virtue. Beers is a Portland Community College custodian at the Rock Creek campus.

Beers has mostly funded the project himself, with lots of volunteer labor from others. He has ambitions to raise additional money to help spread the “You Are Loved” messages more widely, with more cards and a line of T-shirts. Sales of the shirts, in turn, would raise money to help foster kids and the homeless, causes close to Beers’ heart.

“We have people that die on the streets,” he said. “If we don’t help each other, what right do we have to complain?”

Last year, Beers gave a presentation about his “You Are Loved” project at the Rock Creek Campus and recently presented a one-hour workshop for students, faculty and staff on the subject.

Beers’ messages:

“We all suffer in one form or another. You just don’t know what people are going through,” he said. “That one little act of kindness can make such a difference. You can change somebody’s world.”

To see the T-shirts or reach Beers, find his You Are Loved Ink page on Facebook. He hopes to have a website soon.


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