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Joy Team changes world one smile at a time

Nonprofit accentuates the positive through billboards, campaigns

Photo Credit: COURTESY: THE JOY TEAM - Posters and billboards from The Joy Team, a positive messaging campaign, can be downloaded for free on its website: TheJoyTeam.org.The corner of Northeast Weidler Street and First Avenue has a little ray of sunshine to get you through Oregon’s dreary winter.

The Joy Team unveiled its 100th positive message Monday, Jan. 5, on the corner’s Clear Channel Outdoor billboard. Chances are, you’ve already seen one of the 99 other upbeat messages around the city.

The message, “Best. Day. Ever. And it’s yours.” is bright and bold against a sunny yellow backdrop and is sponsored by local business owner Heather Strang.

“I’m so grateful to The Joy Team for creating an avenue for spreading this kind of positivity throughout Portland,” says Strang, who works as a spiritual teacher, author, Master Success Coach, and Certified BodyTalk Practitioner.

“The bottom line is, what we think matters,” Strang says. “If we focus on (the bad) we literally create neural networks in the brain that keep those types of heavy, negative thoughts streaming through our brain. When we consciously make a commitment to positivity and happiness, no matter what the circumstances around us, we begin rewiring those neural networks to create new pathways for happiness and positivity.”

Launched in 2010, the Vancouver, Wash., nonprofit’s founder Michele McKeag Larsen was inspired to spread joy and optimism throughout the community after experiencing first-hand the effects negativity can have on one’s well-being. Following a difficult career change after the economy tanked several years ago, she says she had to consciously surround herself with positivity.

“I told myself ‘I’m just going to really go looking for joy.’ That’s how it started. And it just keeps building. The more I fill my world with things that are good and the more I do for people to better their lives, the better I feel.”

Among the spectators huddled together anxiously awaiting the big reveal was Teri Ellsworth, who was first introduced to The Joy Team through Strang a couple years ago.

“It’s the bright part of your day. The more good vibes we put out into the world, the better it is,” Ellsworth says.

Also in the crowd was another Joy Team groupie, Graham Mueller, who initially got involved with the organization last year for its Think Happy Rally, a social media campaign that awards the person with the most selfies taken with the billboards. He’s been a fan ever since.

“I think what The Joy Team is doing is beautiful. Happiness should be the currency that people strive for in life. Above money, above everything.”

Dan Dhruva, president of Clear Channel Outdoor, also attended the Jan. 6 event and says in regard to the company’s partnership with The Joy Team, “their concise, positive messages are a perfect fit for out-of-home advertising. It’s been a pleasure to see the impact the signs have had.” An average billboard in the Portland area reaches 30,949 unique viewers and is seen 78,960 times per week. Portland resident Jill Brown passes the one that says “Anything is possible. Anything.” on Southeast Grand Avenue several times a week while driving her preschooler with special needs to intensive therapy.

“It’s at the best spot,” Brown says. “A few blocks from an intensive pediatric therapy place that works with children with brain injuries.”

The outdoor ad campaign, which has included 86 billboards, 10 bus shelters and four buildings to date, has become something of a citywide collaboration thanks to Larsen’s efforts to connect with local companies and community members alike. In addition to the partnership with Clear Channel Outdoor, which began in 2010, Larsen has had a long list of local companies eager to sponsor the billboards. Strang has sponsored eight other messages and already is slated to sponsor February and March as well.

Shawna Secord, an instructor at Kim’s Taekwon-Do, says the company was thrilled to sponsor the July 2014 billboard.

“The company likes the idea of supporting a like-minded organization. Taekwon-do stresses the value of personal progress; small goals set and achieved can lead to larger ones,” says Secord, who had her students help pick the message. “Believe in Yourself” was the unanimous decision. “Our schools stress service, and this is one of the many ways we give back to the community.” Other sponsors have included Rose City Mortgage, Awesome Portland, and DIY Marketing.

“You find what you look for,” is a favorite saying of Larsen’s, and she has found much more than she expected since starting The Joy Team, which continues to expand each year. In addition to the billboards and Think Happy Rally, its programs also include PB and Joy, which provides jars of peanut butter with positive notes to hungry kids, and Chalk the Walks, an annual event that invites community members to write positive messages on sidewalks with chalk and then share them on Facebook. Last year, the event had participants from all 50 states and 10 different countries.