A homemade banner welcoming Syrians and other refugees to Maine has been turning heads on Munjoy Hill in Portland.

The sign – which reads “We are Mainers who welcome Syrian (and all) refugees here. Do you?” – has been signed by dozens of people since it appeared last week.

The sign is the brainchild of Ashley Bahlkow, a community activist. Her partner, Dan Marks, an environmental engineer, helped her execute the project.

“There are so many people who would open their doors to someone in need. I wanted to feel connected to those people,” said Bahlkow, who works at Cultivating Community, a Portland nonprofit that promotes local sustainable food systems.

The couple, both 32, put the sign up last Tuesday on the side of their neighbor’s apartment building at 77 Congress St., which is more visible from the street than is their building next door. The sign is equipped with a green marker pen, inviting passers-by to comment.

By Sunday morning, the sign was filled with comments. People stopped by to read and sign the banner.


Bahlkow said her intent was to create something like a Facebook page, where people can post their comments, only more real and immediate. Bahlkow also posted a photo of the sign on Facebook, but she has gotten much more response from the sign on Congress Street.

“On Facebook there is information overload. I wanted to connect with the people around me,” Bahlkow said.

Bahlkow said she has decided to mail the sign to Gov. Paul LePage, who last week joined other Republican governors, who after the terrorist attacks in Paris said they would not accept Syrian refugees into their states, although governors have no power to do so.

“So he knows he is NOT representing the many, many compassionate Mainers who DO want to share our state with Syrian and other refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers who are looking for a place where they can find safety, hope and opportunity. Thanks and love you all. Hope to see you in person in my driveway! ,” she wrote in her Facebook post.

Some of those who signed the banner left their names and addresses.

“Yes! Yes!” read one message signed by Ross and Kathleen Fields of Turner Street.


Others left anonymous comments.

“Yes, Indeed. We are all one family. PS, Thank you for this sign. It’s time for average folks to speak out,” wrote one signer.

Another signer drew a picture of a pineapple, the symbol of welcome. Another drew a sketch of a man with his arms flung out in welcome.

Only two negative comments had shown up on the sign by Sunday afternoon. One simply said “no.” Marks covered up the other one with a row of hearts.

Some neighbors said they were gladdened by the sign.

Kate Griffith and Ben Francis, out walking their dog, Zeke, both signed the banner.


Neighbor Paul Lewin, who said he moved last year from a multicultural neighborhood in Chicago, said he was indifferent about the banner. “It is causing some commotion,” he said.

Neighborhood resident Tracey Menard, on a coffee and pastry run, left behind a message that read: “Of course. My people were once refugees.”

Lisa and David Benson, who moved to Munjoy Hill from Boston two months ago, said when they spotted the sign they knew they had landed in the right place.

Taking up the green marker, Lisa Benson found herself tearing up.

“I am getting a little emotional,” she said.


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