I’ll confess, painting the walls of a mental health facility the day after closing our 25th anniversary issue was the last thing I felt like doing that late April morning. The preceding weeks of long days and nights—including weekends—culminated in a stressful final dash to the finish line to get the “you only turn 25 once” issue to the printing press. Sure, it was a labor of love and our staff was committed to making it the best we could, but we were collectively spent by the final sign-off. Exhausted mentally and physically and irritable with each other as well as our family members (long hours without a break have a way of bringing out the not-so-nice in people), we were all in desperate need of a day to decompress and catch up on the little details of our lives that had been ignored for too long.
But, weeks before, we had committed to once again take part in Two Ten Footwear Foundation’s industry-wide Footwear Cares charitable drive, aimed at getting shoe people—en masse—to give back to their local communities through charities and causes of their choice. This year’s third annual initiative included a range of do-good projects that involved more than 6,000 industry members from more than 100 footwear companies working with 75 non-profits. Industry members worked with well-known charities like Habitat for Humanity and Meals on Wheels; embarked on solo efforts like cleaning up litter near their offices and beautifying parks and trails; and, in our case, partnered with Catholic Charities to brighten up a floor of Beacon of Hope House in Staten Island, NY, with a fresh coat of paint. (For a complete report, see The Greater Good, p. 26.) Our Footwear Cares point person, Associate Publisher Jennifer Craig, had already coordinated our event. The hospital staff was expecting us. Kaitlyn Butler, Two Ten’s community initiatives coordinator, had booked her train ticket from Boston. Two vans had been hired to drive us there and paint, brushes, rollers, tape and ladders were waiting to be put to good use. Even the local pizza parlor had been notified of a pending lunch order that was probably not on their regular delivery route. In short, it was too late to reschedule, regardless of how tired we were or how daunting the thought of a day of hard labor sounded.
I’m glad it was too late to say no. As it turns out, our painting project was exactly what we needed. It broke our routine and gave our staff a bigger-picture perspective that came at just the right time. Not just the change of scenery, but the physical work (creating a magazine is largely a sedentary, mind-driven process) was a breath of fresh air in spite of the paint fumes.
We were still in heavy work mode, so our team got right to it. We conquered the long hallway and kitchen areas by performing specific tasks in small teams. We worked efficiently and cooperatively. Sales and editorial members who seldom work side by side got a chance to team up. And as the hours rolled by, I overheard pleasant, casual conversations among our staff members about their lives outside of the office: bands and books they love, family, favorite vacations and college memories. It was an ideal time for our new associate editor, Kirby Stirland, to get to know the staff better.
As it often does when you’re busy and have a job to complete in a set window of time, the six hours flew by. And, while we are by no means professional painters, our fresh lemon yellow coat sure is an upgrade over the dingy off-white hallway and smudged, chipped, mustard-colored kitchen walls. I would be tempted to say, “mission accomplished,” but the sad truth is that state mental health facility budgets continue to shrink. This facility, like so many others nationwide, is in need of refurbishment beyond a fresh coat of paint. Nonetheless, we made a difference for the patients and staff who spend every day inside those walls. What’s more, Footwear Cares’ commitment to giving back to local communities for a day proved to be a tremendously rewarding personal experience. It really feels good to do good. I highly recommend taking part next year—or any time. It might be just what your staff needs.
Incidentally, my cargo shorts and sneakers are permanently paint-splattered, but I wear them with pride as a reminder of the good deed I was privileged to take part in and of the great day I spent with my co-workers. I’ll remember it forever.