IF YOU CAN, YOU SHOULD

When I first moved to Seattle, I knew no one besides my husband and his college buddy. It was a lonely business trying to find a job and make friends. We had one car and we were living 20 minutes outside downtown in a townhouse with no furniture. Our sleepy marina town closed down at 7:00 at night and our closest neighbors either worked nights, or dealt drugs from their driveways during the day.

I spent every waking moment trying to get a job to help me escape the absolute boredom I felt. During one of my interviews, the Art Director asked me if I was a member of AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) or if I had heard of the School of Visual Concepts. Being both receptive and desperate, I joined AIGA immediately and began taking classes as SVC. Her advice changed my experience dramatically. Instead of pining away, waiting for my employed spouse to return home, I now had places to go and people to meet.

One of the greatest benefits of jointing the AIGA was that it had plenty of opportunities to volunteer. And boy did I. Jumping in with both feet, I helped plan events, as well as volunteered with inner city kids doing art projects, and eventually was invited to join the Board.

Jesse Doquilo, the president at the time, asked what my motivation to join the board was and I told him I wanted to use my talent to give back. He put me in charge of Community Outreach, a brand new position, and told me to define it. And, oh, by the way, you have 70 volunteers waiting for you to tell them what to do. I was given carte blanche.

So...wow. Where to start? Too much freedom can create confusion or stagnation, so I started winnowing the choices down. 

Continue reading the story in an  article I wrote for Communication Arts >>

FISHING FOR COMPLIMENTS

There was a new face that started showing up at different Art with Heart events. Jana pulled me aside, pointed and said, That's Bruce. You gotta meet him.  He's got a heart of gold and he could be a huge help to you...

And so, over the course of that year, I got to know Bruce. He was a complex man – rough around the edges. He could embarrass the heck out of you, and then make you feel proud to know him at the same time. He was very generous with his time, advice, and personal wealth. As our friendship grew, I found that his generosity sprang from a deep well.

Before he was eight, he was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. The disease and its related complications plagued him throughout his entire life. He faced heart problems, deteriorating kidneys, and pancreatic cancer. After many unsuccessful attempts to repair his declining health, doctors ran out of options, save one.

A double transplant was his only hope – to see if Bruce's body could start again and finally cure him of his diabetes. It would be the first transplant of its kind in the state of Washington  – but the surgery was not without major risks or additional complications. It was on the hospital gurney that he made a deal.

If I get through this, I'll live life differently. I'll help kids. I'll do whatever it takes. Just help me through this...

As Bruce slowly recovered, he spent the next six years fervently fulfilling his promise. He became Art with Heart’s first Board President after we seceded from AIGA, spreading the word to  everyone he came across.

I remember a particular lunch meeting with Bruce. I had been working 50+ hours a week for months, and was feeling exhausted and under-appreciated. I must have been fishing for compliments to buoy my flailing mood because he offered up this story...

When I was 18 years old, I got a job as a lifeguard at a beach. I was vigilant – always watching, never slacking. One day, I saw a 13 year old struggling. She was pretty far out, so I had to swim quite a length to get her. She was frantic and started pulling me under. Somehow we made it back to shore, where a small crowd had gathered. Her dad rushed to her side and carried her off. The crowd dispersed. I was left alone, kind of crushed. No hero's welcome? No pats on the back?

Later, I complained to my boss, 'Hey, I just saved that girl's life and I don't even get a simple thank you?' He looked at me and said, 'Son, you were doing your job.'

I tell you this Steffanie, because what you are doing is its own reward. The praise of your peers isn't going to be something you can count on. Just keep doing it and treasure it all in your heart. You are changing lives and that's thanks enough. 

I miss Bruce and to this day am inspired by his commitment to making his life count. He has been gone now for five years, but he continues to live in the work that I get to do every single day – with or without compliments.