By Eric PilgrimOctober 10, 2018
A quick trip practically anywhere in areas surrounding Fort Knox, Kentucky, yields a familiar site, one that is growing more and more familiar by the day. Along the side of the road at businesses and residences and even farm fields are colorful signs with a clear, simple, singular message --
Just Be Kind.
The man behind all those signs, more than 3,000 and growing, works as the G7/9 Marketing, Education and Outreach chief at U.S. Army Recruiting Command. When he's not at work, Ernie Bagley works as a local Christian chaplain and leads a small group on Tuesday nights in Elizabethtown. In his spare time, he and his family produce signs in the hopes of encouraging others.
The idea revealed itself to him nearly a year ago, but it didn't come right away.
Bagley said he and his family had taken a trip to Indiana at Thanksgiving time last year to visit family. While there, they boxed up some meals-on-wheels meals for the needy in a small town when he saw a sign in his sister-in-law's yard.
They had noticed the signs around town and when he inquired about it, Bagley found out a group of youths came up with the idea as a way to encourage other youths who were underprivileged.
This summer, as Bagley met with his small group, the subject came up to help a member of their congregation who was dealing with severe medical issues that confined him to a wheelchair. His house wasn't equipped for a wheelchair.
"He was falling a lot getting into the tub to take a bath, so we had decided to take his third bedroom and make it a handicap-accessible bathroom for him," said Bagley.
That's when the idea for the signs resurfaced. They needed a way to raise the funds for the renovation work.
"That's how the Kindness Campaign began," said Bagley. "We thought we'd do a couple hundred signs, raise $2,000, and pay for the material for this bathroom. We are now over 3,200 signs."
The demands grew so quickly that some members of the group would gather at his family's church in nearby Elizabethtown three days a week to sell the signs. Bagley said on Wednesdays alone, they would show up with 120 signs and have all of them sold within 20 minutes.
Local demand has slowed down, just a little. However, they still meet twice a week at College Heights United Methodist Church -- Mondays from 5:30 to 7 p.m., and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., to sell signs.
Bagley said he has no dreams of getting rich with the signs or starting a business. In fact, he advises others to establish their own sign outreach in their communities. Some communities have taken him up on the offer.
"We never meant it to be a business," Bagley said.
Still, calls keep coming for more signs.
"It's gone now to Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Illinois, Ohio --" said Bagley. "People living here and going on vacations are now buying eight to 16 signs at a time, and taking them to drop them off with family or friends in those locations."
Most recently, a couple bought several signs with plans of taking them to Oklahoma and Texas.
What started as a little project in his garage has expanded to three locations, including a large out building owned by one of his daughters. The demand has also generated a desire from the public for T-shirts, window decals, and other items that members of his congregation have decided to produce.
To meet the need, Bagley has developed a streamlined system where they use wood stencils and spray paint to generate multiple signs at a time. He and his wife can produce as many as 20 signs a night by themselves. A friend of theirs also built a drying rack to help with the greater production.
All the monies generated, minus overhead costs, go toward specific people locally who need real assistance on a one-time basis -- not for things like paying bills. Bagley also makes it clear he is not looking to put any humanitarian organizations out of business, so they don't send the money they raise to organizations. In fact, his congregation brings names to the meetings and votes on whom to help.
He said their focus with each person they agree to help is simple: "See a need, meet the need."
To date, the group has helped with expenses for four funerals, clothes, school and baby items, furniture and household supplies for an elderly couple, and even covering the costs for an adoption, to name a few.
Bagley's hope going forward with the signs is for the kindness to spread to other communities that want to reach their residents.
"At one time, we said, "God, you've blessed us but can you slow it down a little bit," Bagley said. "All of a sudden, that's when the T-shirts came in. If I was retired, nothing more to do, I may look at doing more, but I personally don't have the time.
"We want to take care of folks locally in the surrounding areas. If somebody wants to take it and expound on it from there, we are happy to pass the kindness on."