There is so much trauma in the world today, and children in particular are grappling with stress and anxiety produced by everything from school shootings and natural disasters, to domestic violence and terrorist attacks. Steffanie Lorig came up with a suprisingly simple way to help kids cope: An activity book created by artists that’s filled with coloring books, games, jokes and puzzles. For over two decades, her organization Art With Heart has used activity books and art workshops to help kids heal, including children impacted by 9/11 and the Sandy Hook school shooting. In this podcast, Steffanie talks about how she founded Art With Heart and how she passed the torch to a new successor, Heidi Durham.
COLLEEN: I’m Colleen DeBaise.
SUE: And I’m Sue Williams.
COLLEEN: Today we are speaking to a woman who over two decades ago was inspired to help kids use art to overcome trauma.
STEFFANIE: It was very passion-inspired.
SUE: We’ll tell you about the fascinating, quite unconventional way she came up with the idea for Art with Heart.
STEFANNIE: I went to bed one night and I had this amazing dream.
COLLEEN: And the perhaps counter-intuitive thing she did -- years later -- to make sure Art with Heart would continue to grow.
STEFFANIE: After 18 years, I started to think, “I think it needs somebody different. I think it needs a different skill set.”
COLLEEN: We think this podcast is an especially important one because it deals with something we don’t often hear the media discussing -- and that’s the dramatic increase in the numbers of American children who have experienced trauma.
SUE: It’s both dramatic and disturbing...
SOT: Then when we heard gunshots...
SUE: ...when you think just about school shootings and how common they’ve become. There are easily thousands of children dealing with trauma.
SOT: Oh my god, what happened to my brother?
COLLEEN: The research indicates that almost half of all children in the U.S. -- that’s about 35 million kids -- have been affected by some form of trauma.
SUE: Beyond school shootings, the causes are sexual abuse, physical abuse, domestic violence...
COLLEEN: Bullying, a serious illness...and, of course, kids are experiencing trauma from the ever-growing number of natural disasters -- mudslides, hurricanes, floods and fires.
SUE: It can be overwhelming. But the good news is --
COLLEN: Good news?
SUE: -- we’re going to tell you about one entrepreneur who founded a social enterprise to help these kids cope and, hopefully, heal.
COLLEEN: Stick around.
SUE: Welcome to The Story Exchange. You’re listening to our series Good on the Ground...
VARIOUS VOICES: ...Good on the Ground...
COLLEEN: You’re listening to Good on the Ground from The Story Exchange, featuring women entrepreneurs making an impact in a world that needs fixing. For this episode, we headed to downtown Seattle, home of Starbucks, rainy weather, Pike Place market, lots of politically-woke hipster types...
STEFFANIE: My name is Steffanie Lorig and I'm the founder of Art with Heart.
COLLEEN: And let’s just get this out of the way -- she’s clearly a big fan of The Story Exchange.
SUE (from tape): Have you seen any of our videos?
STEFFANIE: I have not. No, I meant to but then I forgot, sorry.
COLLEEN: (laughter) Forgot to watch our videos!
SUE: Well, we can’t be all things to all people.
COLLEEN: Anyhow, we spoke with Steffanie at Art with Heart’s office about how the organization got started.
STEFFANIE: The idea behind Art with Heart was always to use creativity to help kids heal from trauma and be able to utilize their inner strength to be able to solve their own problems.
SUE: Steffanie is an artist by training.
COLLEEN: In 1998, she moved to Seattle from her home state of Arizona to work as a graphic artist.
STEFFANIE: I didn't know anybody and I started trying to figure out, how do I get integrated into the design community?
SUE: She joined the Seattle chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Artists.
COLLEEN: After a while, she joined the board.
STEFFANIE: I said, “I want to give back. I want to give back to my community using my talents.”
SUE: The president put Steffanie in charge of community outreach.
STEFFANIE: And he said, “You have 70 volunteers for you to tell them what to do. They are waiting for you.” So I had this blank slate and pressure.
COLLEEN: Steffanie decided to pick a cause that was very personal to her.
STEFFANIE: Growing up I had really bad asthma and had a lot of asthma attacks, and spent a lot of time in the hospitals. And at the time children’s hospitals weren't really a thing, so I was put in with people who were dying, right, and that was very frightening and scary for me.
COLLEEN: She decided to help children, using art.
STEFFANIE: And that is how Art with Heart was born.
SUE: Steffanie experimented with a number of different concepts, such as art workshops.
COLLEEN: And then she heard about a little girl named Hallie.
STEFFANIE: I was doing Art with Heart in the evenings and the weekends and early, early mornings, but I had my full-time job.
COLLEEN: Her supervisor introduced her to a woman...
STEFFANIE: ...who was helping a child who had been diagnosed with cancer when she was 12 months old. And she at the time was now four and she was still struggling with the same cancer that just kept coming back and coming back and coming back.
COLLEEN: The story resonated.
STEFFANIE: Being in the hospital, being alone, being scared. Hallie's story really struck a chord with me.
SUE: Steffanie started to research how she could help.
COLLEEN: Maybe Art with Heart could do workshops for kids, in the hospital...
STEFFANIE: ...and every door that I knocked on was shut. “No, you can't come bringing your germs into the hospital. These kids are really immune compromised and you can't just be coming in here.”
COLLEEN: It was frustrating.
STEFFANIE: But I knew there was something that we could formulate to help kids like Hallie.
COLLEEN: And that’s where our story takes an interesting twist.
SUE: Yes. Some people find inspiration in the shower, or maybe taking a walk.
COLLEEN: Steffanie...went to sleep.
STEFFANIE: So I went to bed one night totally frustrated, trying to figure out how we can help. And I had this amazing dream that was so vivid and so real that when I woke up I thought, “I know exactly what I'm going to do.”
COLLEEN: In her dream, she figured out a way that she -- and all the artists she knew -- could help kids in the hospital, without getting the hospital staff all worked up.
SUE: It was a beautifully illustrated activity book for children in crisis.
STEFFANIE: Because the books don’t have boundaries -- the books can go anywhere.
COLLEEN: The book could be a way to keep kids occupied when they were in the hospital for things like chemo or dialysis or transplants or other surgeries.
STEFFANIE: And so the next day I happened to have lunch with a friend of mine who happened to be on the new board of directors for the National Illustrators Conference. And when I told him my idea that I wanted to bring all these illustrators together to be able to put this book together for the kids, he was like, “Oh, that's great. How many illustrators do you want? Like five, three?” And I said, “No, I want a hundred.”
COLLEEN: That’s a lot of artists.
SUE: It was a very ambitious.
COLLEEN: And Steffanie needed to find not only artists who would do this pro bono, but also therapists and educators...
STEFFANIE: ...who were familiar with the hospital situation and knew what these children were facing. What kind of fears they were facing, what kind of anxieties they had.
COLLEEN: It took two years.
SUE: And a lot of effort, trying to figure out what games, jokes, puzzles and coloring pages would appeal to kids.
STEFFANIE: It was very passion-inspired, and when you have passion, people come along with that passion.
SUE (from tape): How do you even begin to coordinate 94 illustrators?
STEFFANIE: I mean, I started having to get up at four in the morning just to do it before I went to work. It was indeed a labor of love. It was a remarkable -- I have no idea how I did it now.
COLLEEN: But eventually...
STEFFANIE: It all came together and that become our first book, “Oodles of Doodles” for hospitalized kids.
SUE: Places like the Seattle Children Hospital began using it.
COLLEEN: If you go to Art with Heart’s website or YouTube channel, you can see how much this super-colorful book would immediately brighten a hospital room --
SUE: -- and encourage interaction between parents and children, unlike TV or video games.
COLLEEN: Yeah. There’s also something just basic and easy about it -- a big plus for kids and families already dealing with so much. Here’s how Hallie’s mom described it -- and this is from a video that Art with Heart made some years back.
SOT: Who can’t pick up a crayon and scribble on a piece of paper? And if it’s just that activity -- if it’s giving a quiet minute with your sick child or the siblings -- just to do something together, that’s the gift.
COLLEEN: After a long struggle with childhood cancer, Hallie is doing great -- she’s now an adult living and working outside Portland, Oregon.
SUE: We’re going to take a brief break now. When we come back, we’ll tell you about how Steffanie continued to build Art with Heart, in the wake of a series of national disasters.
SOT: The Story Exchange is a nonprofit media company that provides inspiration and information for women entrepreneurs. Check out our videos -- including a profile of the entrepreneurs you are listening to right now -- at www.thestoryexchange.org. And we’d love to hear from you, especially if you know someone who should be featured on this podcast: Drop us a line at [email protected] -- or find us on Facebook.
STEFFANIE: So where we started thinking we were just going to help our community, it very quickly grew.
COLLEEN: We’ve been sharing the story of Steffanie Lorig, an entrepreneur who is the founder of Art with Heart.
SUE: Which began as a community outreach program of the American Institute of Graphic Artists in Seattle.
COLLEEN: Right -- she didn’t actually spin it off into its own 501(c)(3) nonprofit until about 2002 to 2003.
STEFFANIE: Check all my dates with other people because, yeah. I'm an artist not a mathematician!
COLLEEN: Steffanie is really what I would call an accidental entrepreneur.
SUE: Right. She spent many years working full-time as a graphic artist for a design firm, while developing Art with Heart on the side.
STEFFANIE: We didn't have a space outside my home, so it was my basement.
SUE: It was many years before she could quit her day job and pay herself a salary.
COLLEEN: One of her first tests of entrepreneurship was finding funding to publish “Oodles of Doodles.”
STEFFANIE: The first book was funded miraculously, I would have to say, because we went to our first funder and he said, “You are going to need more than you think you're going to need. So I want you to go out and raise $25,000 and when you have, I will match it.” And I left thinking, “Oh my gosh. How is this going to happen?” And within a week I had my first $10,000 sponsor, and a next $5,000 sponsor, and then the next. And so I was able to do it -- I have no idea how. It was just the universe and miracles, right. So by the time --
SUE (from tape): Is it foundations or private individuals or corporations?
STEFFANIE: All of the above. Just anybody who understood what kids were going through and wanted to invest in that.
COLLEEN: After “Oodles of Doodles,” Art with Heart published a book aimed at another underserved group -- the sisters and brothers of sick children.
SUE: It was called “Magnificent Marvelous Me!”
COLLEEN: And here’s just a quick sound bite from an Art with Heart video. It’s from an adorable girl whose younger sister was in the hospital with a terminally ill disease. She’s got her markers and she’s looking at this oversized activity book.
SOT: Like, it’s great to just have something that was meant for me -- like it says, “Magnificent Marvelous Me!”
STEFFANIE: The siblings of the seriously ill children are often now shadows -- they don't get the attention they used to get. They have fear, they have loneliness. Sometimes they have anger and jealousy and then guilt because of those things.
COLLEEN: And then a surprising thing happened with “Magnificent Marvelous Me!”
STEFFANIE: I think we printed 5,000 for the very first run, and before those books were finished, people came back to me and said, “You know, I'm not just using this book with kids whose siblings are ill. I'm using it with kids whose fathers are incarcerated. I'm using it with kids whose mothers have died.” And so we realized that there was a greater use for the book.
COLLEEN: You know, it’s easy to forget or overlook the many ways that kids can be impacted by trauma.
SUE: Which you don’t want to do, because that’s when anxiety and depression and sometimes mental illness can set in.
COLLEEN: Exactly. According to research, kids who have been through a distressing experience face three times higher risk of depression, 20 years lower life expectancy, and social, emotional and cognitive impairments.
STEFFANIE: We just kept looking for, what were the needs? And that's where we went.
COLLEEN: It wasn’t hard to find the needs.
SUE: Unfortunately not.
COLLEEN: Art with Heart began working with kids affected by local disasters.
SUE: From mudslides to police shootings...
COLLEEN: ...to national events, from 9/11 to the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012. And let’s take a minute to talk about Sandy Hook.
SUE: Community members invited Art with Heart to come in, about ten months after the massacre...
COLLEEN: ...in which 20 students and six adult staff members were murdered.
SUE: Steffanie and Art with Heart put on a workshop for some of the survivors.
COLLEEN: There’s a video of the workshop -- and here’s how one member of the Newtown community explained it.
SOT: We’ve had offers from many different groups in the United States and actually throughout the world to come in and help -- and Art with Heart was something unique, because it worked with the teaches and with counselors and people who can really make a positive difference in the lives of the youth.
COLLEEN: For the workshop, they used the Art with Heart book “Chill and Spill.”
SUE: It’s sort of a journal that combines creative writing exercises with visual art activities.
COLLEEN: In the video, you can see kids and adults working on the art projects -- they’re wearing blue smocks and they’ve got paintbrushes and paper and canvas.
SOT: I actually have a bunch of glue on my hands. There’s a lot of gluing in the process...
-You had to put glue underneath and on top of it and your hands got gooey.
-I like messy.
STEFFANIE: We started to think about, how could we help these kids who might not have a school counselor that they could trust or a parent who would bring them to a therapist?
SOT: We felt that those workbooks were really a great way to engage the kids and be a wonderful tool that allows them to express themselves without even knowing they’re doing so.
COLLEEN: We’ve been sharing our conversation with Steffanie Lorig of Seattle, who founded Art with Heart with the idea of helping kids.
SUE: And she successfully turned Art with Heart into a social enterprise with an international reputation.
STEFFANIE: It's been an exciting journey and to be able to help 155,000 kids around the world, it’s amazing.
COLLEEN: But in 2014, shortly after the visit to Newtown, tragedy struck closer to home.
STEFFANIE: Our beloved board president passed away suddenly and that was a devastating blow.
COLLEEN: Steffanie started to think about sustainability.
STEFFANIE: My sustainability. The organization’s sustainability. What will it take -- would it be able to survive without me?
COLLEEN: At that time, it felt like the answer was...
STEFFANIE: ...it might hobble along but it might not survive, because I just was carrying too much.
COLLEEN: There’s a saying, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
SUE: About a month later...
STEFFANIE: We had the largest donation we'd ever received in our entire history.
COLLEEN: A benefactor impressed with Art with Heart’s work in Newtown made the donation.
SUE: Steffanie doesn’t disclose the amount, but Art with Heart lists income of over $700,000, according to public data.
STEFFANIE: And so I had these dual things happening. I had this time to really consider death and life and what comes next and the freedom to say, “We can now make some choices.”
COLLEEN: Steffanie knew that Art with Heart’s board really wanted to nationalize the program.
SUE: With her art background, Steffanie didn’t think she was the right person to manage hyper-growth.
STEFFANIE: I had always said to myself I was going to stay at Art with Heart as long as it needed me. And after 20 -- well, I think 18 years -- I started to think, “I think it needs somebody different. I think it needs a different skill set.”
COLLEEN: So Steffanie began doing her research on succession planning.
STEFFANIE: I'm a big research person, I love research.
COLLEEN: She contacted several nonprofit leaders who had similarly made way for new leadership.
STEFFANIE: I interviewed founders but I also interviewed the people who came after them, to find out what were the sticking points and what were the red flags and what were the pain points.
COLLEEN: She says she didn’t want to be that founder...
SUE: ...the one who can’t let go, who makes trouble, who inserts themselves.
COLLEEN: She wanted a good ending.
STEFFANIE: And that was the biggest thing. It was, how do you let go of your baby?
HEIDI SOT: Art has this magical way of connecting what’s in the head, heart and hands. My name is Heidi and I’m the CEO of Art with Heart.
COLLEEN: After a lengthy, multi-year process, a mutual acquaintance introduced Steffanie to Heidi Durham.
HEIDI: I had studied marketing and business at Duke.
SUE: And of course, this being Seattle, Heidi had worked for a company you may have heard of...
HEIDI: I was with Starbucks 15 years. I was running the Tazo Tea business. So, basically what that means, is tea as a category -- hot tea, tea lattes, iced tea.
COLLEEN: So, a slightly different work experience than Steffanie.
SUE: Yes -- but that was intentional.
STEFFANIE: The board was really very interested in growing it past where we had already gotten. We were not looking for a clone of me, we needed somebody different.
SUE: When I interviewed Heidi and Steffanie for the video we produced on them --
COLLEEN: -- and listeners can watch that on our site, www.TheStoryExchange.org --
SUE: -- I was struck at how really different they are -- Steffanie is smaller, older, petite; you can feel her passion as an artist.
STEFFANIE SOT: I’ve always been an artist all my life.
SUE: Heidi’s more confident, outgoing, business-like.
HEIDI SOT: Chelsea! Nancy! Hey!
SUE: I can’t see Steffanie getting too excited about selling coffee in China, but I can definitely see Heidi going in there on fire.
COLLEEN: Yeah, but what’s interesting is that Heidi was really looking for a career change.
SUE: Right. While she was at Starbucks, she took a year-long sabbatical.
HEIDI: I was in Ethiopia. I was working with kids that were homeless, street children, and kids that were HIV positive orphans, living in orphanages.
COLLEEN: When she got back to the U.S. --
HEIDI: I was looking to get to the social sector and looking for meaningful, purpose-driven work.
STEFFANIE: When I met Heidi, I just saw the sincerity and I saw that she had a good heart. That was exciting, to be able to see a completely different skill set, but one that was complementary.
HEIDI SOT: Welcome to Art with Heart. We are so grateful that you guys are here.
HEIDI: We had actually a three month transition together, which was lovely, to have that time to learn from Steffanie, be around Steffanie, really just soak it in.
COLLEEN: In September 2016, Art with Heart formally announced Steffanie’s retirement in a press release.
SUE: And while we interviewed them sitting next to each other, they actually don’t speak all that often now.
STEFFANIE: Yeah, we talk.
HEIDI: I do.
STEFFANIE: Like every two, three months or so, right?
HEIDI: Yes, of course.
SUE (from tape): I mean, you talk a few times a year, but is that kind of what you learned when you were doing your research? Was that the advice you got?
STEFFANIE: Yeah. I had to step away completely, mostly because it's just such an emotional ride. If my end goal was to let go, I had to let go.
COLLEEN: Heidi is now making major changes to give Art with Heart global reach.
SOT: $10,000 for building the website, basically, on the backend.
HEIDI: So we are working to raise the funding right now for a learning management platform where we can take our curricula that’s currently in a three ring binder and put it online. But I think giving someone the freedom to take the next chapter, and to trust that like -- I'm here because I believe in what she built, and there's nothing I want to do more than just share it, and find ways to share it so it can do more good.
STEFFANIE: I love that.
STEFFANIE: It’s fun to hear her talk about it.
COLLEEN: When we last spoke to Steffanie, she was finding her “new normal” in life, which includes doing a lot of her own artwork.
SUE: She really poured so much of herself into Art with Heart.
COLLEEN: As she told us, when it comes to founding a mission-driven company, you need a dreamer to start it -- and a sustainer to grow it.
SUE: I think those are good words to end this podcast with.
COLLEEN: I agree. Our thanks to Steffanie Lorig --
SUE: -- and Heidi Durham!
COLLEEN: -- for sharing the Art with Heart story.
SUE: And we thank you for listening.
COLLEEN: This has been The Story Exchange. Join us next time to hear more stories about innovative and inspirational women doing the things you’d never dream of. Or...maybe you would. If you liked this podcast, please share on social media or post a review on iTunes. It helps other people find the show. And visit our website at TheStoryExchange.org, where you’ll find news, videos and tips for women entrepreneurs. And we’d love to hear from you, especially if you know someone who should be featured on this podcast: Drop us a line at [email protected] -- or find us on Facebook. Sound editing provided by Nusha Balyan. Production coordinator is Christina Kelly. Interview recorded by Sam Shinn. Executive producers are Sue Williams and Victoria Wang.