OUR STORY, PART IV: 50 STATES

<– CONTINUED FROM PART III: THE HERO[SERIES]

After five years of annual HERO[series] design projects, [HAS HEART] has been able to refine the Veteran and artist collaboration process into a streamlined, efficient two-day collaboration process. Thus, making it easily repeatable over and over again in order to impact more Veterans, engage more creatives, and reach more civilians.

The question was, how does a small, volunteer, self-funded non-profit organization reach the masses?

 

Our answer: Why don’t we just take it to them ourselves?

So we are.

OUR STORY, PART III: THE HERO[SERIES]

<– CONTINUED FROM PART II: THE MARINE

Since that first project in 2011 when Way essentially became the creative arms and hands of a quadriplegic U.S. Marine, both he and Hyacinthe knew they had a new mission and duty to continue sharing Veterans stories through this powerful collaborative outlet.

To do so, the HERO[series] was born, which pairs a Veteran with a designer for the shared mission to tell their story through the mediums of art, design, and fashion.

For the past five years, [HAS HEART] has partnered Veterans with artists on an annual basis, each year unveiling a collection of new designs, American-made products, and Veterans’ stories as an annual ArtPrize exhibit in Grand Rapids, MI.

But each year, [HAS HEART] would slightly change the “recipe” of the project until they got it ‘just right.’

For instance, the 2012 HERO[series] project partnered some of the top-selling Threadless artists from across the country with a handful of the most awe-inspiring Veterans, flying the majority of them into Grand Rapids from across the country.

The following project in 2013 featured regional artists (all within driving distance) with Veterans flown-in from across the country.

In 2014, all artists were local and just a couple Veterans were flown-in.

Then, it clicked.

Way was a local member of the national professional design organization, AIGA. After connecting with the board members from his West Michigan chapter, the 2015 HERO[series] project was going to partner five local Veterans, 4 of whom were Vietnam-era Veterans, with five artist members from the AIGA West Michigan chapter — becoming a potential pilot project that the other 70+ AIGA chapters could one-day duplicate.

The second stage of the AIGA pilot project was implemented for the 2016 HERO[series] in which the project would travel to a new city for the first time to partner local Veterans with local artists in Detroit, 300 miles East from Grand Rapids.

[HAS HEART] partnered with AIGA Detroit to select five of their artist members along with a locally-based, Veterans-focused nonprofit organization, Detroit Boots On The Ground, to help select five Detroit-area Veterans.

The project was so well received in Detroit, where its impact was felt across numerous channels (literally — including local media) that it led [HAS HEART] to open a temporary pop-up shop (following the 2016 ArtPrize exhibit) in the heart of downtown Detroit for the Christmas holiday shopping season.

The HERO[series] process was refined and refined again, now ready to impact more Veterans, engage more creatives, and reach more civilians. The question was, how does a small, self-funded non-profit organization reach the masses?

That’s exactly the question Way and Hyacinthe had to ask themselves, plus a couple more new team members…

CONTINUED IN PART IV: 50 STATES –>

OUR STORY, PART II: THE MARINE

<– CONTINUED FROM PART I: UNITED OVER COFFEE

In 2010, U.S. Navy Veteran, Michael Hyacinthe and artist/designer, Tyler Way met for the first time over a cup of coffee. During their conversation, they realized the severe disconnect between Hyacinthe’s world as a Veteran and Way’s world as a creative.

Not long after their initial meeting, Hyacinthe met a local U.S. Marine who was paralyzed from the neck-down and lost his ability to speak due to injuries suffered in Iraq. Once he learned of the Marine’s love of t-shirts from his full-time nurse, Hyacinthe called Way and asked if he’d be interested in helping create a t-shirt design with the Marine.

Over a couple hours time, Hyacinthe and Way listened and took notes as the Marine and his caretaker told old stories, shared about his favorite hobbies, interests, music and movies, and passed around pictures of him before, during, and after his deployment and life-changing injury.

Much of this time, the nurse was talking and answering questions. But to get the full story to help tell, Way had some questions for the Marine to answer. Since he could only nod his head “Yes” or “No,” the questions and answers were limited. After gaining a strong understanding of his overall story and personal style, Way asked one final question that required more than a nod or a head shake.

“What’s your definition of a hero?” Way asked.

Without hesitation, the Marine looked over to his nurse and through a special alphanumeric communication code, began spelling out his answer, letter by letter.

The Marine responded with head nods and shakes as his caretaker pointed to each row of letters on a white board by his side: “1234.ST – 123.MNO – 1234.ST – 1.A – 12.GHIJKL – 1234.S – 1.A – 1.ABC – 123.MNOPQR – 1234.GHI – 1.ABCDEF – 1234.GHI – 1.ABC – 1.ABCDE.

Everyone paused for a moment and let his response sink in.

Way had more than enough information and inspiration to get started.

Throughout the next week, Way researched military references, design inspirations, and even made a visit to the Marines home to better understand him and his lifestyle directly and to share some initial sketches and concepts.

With the feedback and further intel gathered after the home visit, the gang regathered for the unveiling of the Marine’s final design.

His smile lit up the room.

Mission Accomplished. His shirt was printed and sold with its proceeds helping him to finish building his handicap-accessible smart home.

But for [HAS HEART]… Now what?

CONTINUED IN PART III: THE HERO[SERIES] –>

OUR STORY, PART I: UNITED OVER COFFEE

Michael Hyacinthe, an 8-year United States Navy Veteran served as a U.S. Navy Seabee combat warfare specialist from 1997-2005. While active, Hyacinthe traveled throughout the world to bases and on missions in Iceland, Guam, Europe and the Middle East.

Michael Hyacinthe with fellow Navy Seabee, Wally Forbes (2004)

Originally born in Haiti, Hyacinthe and his family moved when he was five years old to the Bronx, NY. Following his service and time spent living in New York City, Hyacinthe relocated to Grand Rapids, MI in 2008, where he currently lives with his wife and four kids.

CPL Danne DeBoer (6/12/86-6/25/10)

In June 2010, Hyacinthe and his wife’s extended family learned the worst news any service member’s family could hear. Their son, brother, cousin, and friend, U.S. Marine Corporal Daane DeBoer, was killed-in-action from an IED explosion in Afghanistan.

While the family was grieving their loss, a buzz of energy was simultaneously filling the Grand Rapids area. ArtPrize, the world’s largest open art competition, was just beginning to flood the streets and buildings of downtown Grand Rapids, transforming the entire city into a free public art gallery.

Witnessing over 400,000 people come together throughout the city for an event like ArtPrize left an impression on Hyacinthe, inclining him to believe that art harnesses the power to bring a diverse group of people together.

A few months later while working towards earning his degree from Grand Valley State University, Hyacinthe learned about GVSU alum, Tyler Way, an artist and designer who had recently graduated with a degree in Advertising & Public Relations and minor in Entrepreneurship.

Tyler Way, 2010

Years earlier while in his freshman dorm room in 2006, Way discovered the art of customizing sneakers.

Throughout his college education, Way built a of business custom-designing sneakers for elite clients including NBA players Tayshaun Prince, Rip Hamilton, Chris Paul, and LeBron James. In addition to custom-painted shoes, Way also created large-scale pointillism artwork for Nike founder, Phil Knight, former NBA Dunk Contest Winner, Jason Richardson, professional sport executives like Lynn Merritt and William “Worldwide” Wes, and singer & songwriter, Mike Posner. Beyond his artistic ambitions, Way freelanced as a graphic designer and created a small line of apparel products before graduating in 2009.

Hyacinthe sent Way an email, and the two met-up for coffee at their local neighborhood coffee shop.

During their conversation, they quickly realized the disconnect between Hyacinthe’s world as a Veteran and Way’s world as an artist and designer.

Although Way didn’t come from an extensive military background (his grandfather served in the Army during the Korean War), he was personally motivated to ‘do something’ because two of his childhood friends were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan while he was able to freely follow his passions and career.

Hyacinthe, who still had a twin brother actively serving as a medic in the Army, wanted to continue his service by helping other Veterans while also honoring his fallen cousin-in-law, Daane DeBoer.

Both Hyacinthe and Way believed that the worlds of Veterans, creatives, and civilians could come together not merely to co-exist, but to support and better understand each other — they just didn’t know quite how. At least not yet…

Shortly after their first meeting over coffee, Hyacinthe was attending a regional Veterans event where he met a local wounded Marine, which changed everything…

CONTINUED IN PART II: THE MARINE –>

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Sed pretium rhoncus euismod. Sed elementum tortor sit amet neque venenatis, eget posuere elit feugiat. Nulla aliquet id nisl id pretium. Sed ac nibh vehicula, sollicitudin tortor eget, varius ex. Duis imperdiet orci ut quam porta luctus. Quisque lacinia, urna in varius faucibus, metus mauris facilisis erat, vel viverra dolor leo sit amet libero. Ut pellentesque dignissim sagittis. Integer at quam nec tortor auctor eleifend. Vestibulum vel hendrerit mi. Vestibulum ante ipsum primis in faucibus orci luctus et ultrices posuere cubilia Curae; Donec non massa pulvinar, fringilla quam quis, maximus mauris. Donec ullamcorper augue fringilla mauris tincidunt varius. Duis iaculis nec magna eu pulvinar.

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Sed pretium rhoncus euismod. Sed elementum tortor sit amet neque venenatis, eget posuere elit feugiat. Nulla aliquet id nisl id pretium. Sed ac nibh vehicula, sollicitudin tortor eget, varius ex. Duis imperdiet orci ut quam porta luctus. Quisque lacinia, urna in varius faucibus, metus mauris facilisis erat, vel viverra dolor leo sit amet libero. Ut pellentesque dignissim sagittis. Integer at quam nec tortor auctor eleifend. Vestibulum vel hendrerit mi. Vestibulum ante ipsum primis in faucibus orci luctus et ultrices posuere cubilia Curae; Donec non massa pulvinar, fringilla quam quis, maximus mauris. Donec ullamcorper augue fringilla mauris tincidunt varius. Duis iaculis nec magna eu pulvinar.

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Sed pretium rhoncus euismod. Sed elementum tortor sit amet neque venenatis, eget posuere elit feugiat. Nulla aliquet id nisl id pretium. Sed ac nibh vehicula, sollicitudin tortor eget, varius ex. Duis imperdiet orci ut quam porta luctus. Quisque lacinia, urna in varius faucibus, metus mauris facilisis erat, vel viverra dolor leo sit amet libero. Ut pellentesque dignissim sagittis. Integer at quam nec tortor auctor eleifend. Vestibulum vel hendrerit mi. Vestibulum ante ipsum primis in faucibus orci luctus et ultrices posuere cubilia Curae; Donec non massa pulvinar, fringilla quam quis, maximus mauris. Donec ullamcorper augue fringilla mauris tincidunt varius. Duis iaculis nec magna eu pulvinar.