Good Sunday afternoon everyone!
As I mentioned in last week’s post, one thing I am going to be focusing on in the coming months is producing new and engaging content for The Smile Project. The best way I see to begin this process is to highlight some of this world’s game-changers.
In case you missed it, I will be reinstating #ServiceSunday in a big way. Each Sunday I will pick an organization or an individual who is making a difference in the world and tell you why you should care.
My first #ServiceSunday was a rather obvious choice. I met Steve (okay, it was through a phone call) a little over a year ago as I was completing my culminating research project at my university. He was the first of quite a few entrepreneurial go-getters I would speak to over the course of the semester and I have been an avid fan of his work ever since. It only seemed fitting, of course, that he should be featured in my inaugural post.
Without further ado, allow me to introduce to you all, Mr. Steven Barr.
Organization: Steve Barr Cartoons
Liz: Let’s start in traditional Smile Project fashion: give me a “Happiness is!”
Steve: Happiness is leaving a six year-old pediatric patient's room and hearing her scream, "Thanks for drawing with me and giving me free art supplies, SANTA!"
Liz: Tell me a little bit about your organization.
Steve: At the moment, what I'm doing is pretty much an individual effort, but I am planning to grow it into something much larger and more long-lasting. It all started out quite simply. I'm a professional cartoonist and the author of multiple books that teach children how to draw cartoons.
One day, I decided that I wanted to visit children in hospitals from time to time. It was something that I thought I would do occasionally. At first, I was surprised when I hit quite a few roadblocks. Due to safety concerns and patient confidentiality regulations, I would have to get a flu shot and have a current two-step TB screen. And I'd need to learn what the medical staff expected of me when I spent time with the kids they serve.
It took quite a bit of research and a lot of correspondence before doors began to swing open. But once they did, the response was overwhelming. After one facility recognized the results of those visits, more and more locations began extending invitations for me to draw with their young patients.
I went from doing group presentations in activity rooms to being asked to do private bedside visits with children who were not able to attend the group lessons and spending time with children in isolation units.
In the first year, I ended up visiting multiple facilities in five states. It became addictive. It turned into something that I wanted to do all of the time. Something I would do for the rest of my life.
I quickly realized that I could not do it alone. The cost for materials and travel were exorbitant. I was driving great distances, and giving every child I met a free bag of non-toxic, latex-free art supplies that they could keep. Just assembling those gift packets was so time consuming that it was obvious this was going to become a full-time endeavor.
I had to reach out for help. I set up an online funding campaign, and a little bit of money trickled in. Grants for individuals are very difficult to find and applying for them is an extremely competitive task.
But I was very fortunate. I got the first grant I applied for, from a wonderful organization called The Pollination Project. They provide seed money to help jump-start ideas that help people do good works. They also are great at giving behind-the-scenes support and advice, and helped me begin planning the growth of my organization.
That grant was followed by another larger one from the Ella Lyman Cabot Trust, and I will forever be grateful to them for truly helping me launch my programs.
At the end of 2015, I was awarded an Impact Grant from The Pollination Project, in conjunction with the Levi-Strauss Company and the Fox Family Foundation. That enabled me to order more supplies for the kids and begin to grow what I was doing into something even bigger, something that would touch many more lives at a time when the children needed it the most.
I've written books for two different publishers at this point, Impact Books (F&W Media) and Peel Productions. Both of those companies generously donated huge amounts of my books to the cause, and even some by other authors. We began giving free drawing books to children in hospitals, and building small libraries of art instruction books at every medical facility and camp I visited.
Those books helped swing even more doors open. Other cartoonists, artists and illustrators began asking if I could help them do similar programs in their own areas. They offered their art to help uplift and encourage young patients, to keep them fighting and engaged in pleasant distraction during their traumatic battles with extremely difficult illnesses and medical conditions.
In the coming year, I will be doing everything I possibly can to expand what I am already doing. I want to develop an organization that touches as many hearts as it possibly can. And I know that when I accomplish that goal, the heart that will touched the deepest is my own.
Liz: What is the driving force behind what you do?
Steve: The driving force behind what I do is the smiles I see on the children's faces, and the smiles on my own face when I am with them.
Watching a child who hasn't eaten in days because their treatments have killed their appetite suddenly begin nibbling on food while we draw is absolutely amazing. Seeing a child in hospice care who only has weeks left to live sit up, joke with me and happily begin drawing is so special, and I'm honored that they want to spend some of the little time they have left on earth drawing funny pictures with me. I've shared more hugs, tears, and laughter with patients, parents, and hospital staff now than I could possibly count.
Having a young lady who lost the use of her right arm to cancer and has been struggling to learn how to use her left one suddenly have it all "click" for her while we were creating cartoons was stunning and miraculous.
When I first started doing this, I had read articles about the incredible impact creating art has on patients. I saw article after article about how it can kill pain, sometimes for hours after the activity is done. But until I saw it firsthand, I didn't truly understand the amazing power it could have.
That's what this is all about. And it is why I want to make it my life's work. The program needs to be something that lasts long after I am gone.
Liz: What does “service” mean to you?
Steve: To me, the word "service" just means treating others like you would want to be treated, and doing whatever you can to make the world a slightly better place each day.
Liz: How can people get involved?
Steve: Any support at this point - no matter how small - will help to continue providing free art supplies and books to children in hospitals. As the programs continue to grow, this will naturally evolve into a nonprofit so we can chase larger grants and make contributions tax-deductible for donors. Contributions to the fundraising page can be made here.
We'll also be actively seeking cartoonists, comic book artists and professional illustrators who would like to reach out to children and do visits in their own communities.
Lastly, don’t forget to give your social support.
This concludes my first #ServiceSunday. I hope you’re feeling inspired and ready to start your work week with generosity and kindness. Whether you can show support through a $5 donation or a retweeted post, take a moment today to think about all the incredible things Steve is doing for these children.
As for me, I’ll see you next Sunday as I highlight another phenomenal example of humankind.
Looking to nominate an individual or organization that you know? Reach out to The Smile Project on social media or by filling out the contact form here.
Liz: Do you have a favorite quote?
"How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment to improve the world."
~ Anne Frank