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[Fashion Has Heart]: Helping American Heroes

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[Fashion Has Heart] is a non-profit, non-partisan organization whose mission is to help wounded American heroes through the mediums of art, design and fashion. Like every great initiative that starts with a need and a void to be filled, Michael Hyacinthe and I noticed a need. There are a variety of initiatives already established that provide aid to wounded soldiers and their families. However, we noticed a strong disconnect between those initiatives and the majority of American citizens.

Not surprisingly, many Americans question the wars our country has been heavily involved in during the past decade. As more lives are lost, those questions continue to percolate. So how can an organization encourage average Americans to put aside personal views on the wars and still be supportive of those who have sacrificed in war? We have discovered that the mediums of art, design and fashion are powerful channels to: (1) share powerful stories of soldiers who have sacrificed themselves for their country; and (2) enable average Americans to support these heroes through word-of-mouth and their purchasing power. That combination builds awareness of a soldier's life-long sacrifice and provides an outlet for citizens to honor that sacrifice.

[Fashion Has Heart] founder and executive director Michael Hyacinthe was born in Haiti and raised in the Bronx, N.Y. Michael served in the U.S. Navy for eight years as a Navy seabee combat warfare specialist. His entrepreneurship career began while enlisted when he started www.UrbanLiberty.net, an e-commerce service for military personnel. He was recognized by Inc., the premier magazine for small businesses, as a top entrepreneur for his online partnership with the U.S. military. Michael is currently enrolled at Grand Valley State University where is he obtaining his business degree.

A mutual contact at GVSU suggested Michael contact me. I had graduated in December 2009 with a degree in advertising and public relations, with a minor in entrepreneurship. While a student at GVSU, I made a small name for myself custom-designing sneakers for LeBron James, Chris Paul, Rip Hamilton and other NBA stars. I also created a small clothing brand and produced collegiate licensed apparel (check out www.theTWAYcollection.com).

Michael and I connected: he a veteran and successful entrepreneur, and me a young "creative" with some successful projects under my belt and the ambition to do more. Soon we discovered that "need" we could meet.

I had friends stationed in Afghanistan facing danger every day while I lived comfortably doing freelance design projects and being an artist. They were serving their country and were dedicated to something bigger than themselves. What was I doing to contribute, other than paying a few dollars in taxes every year? That's when Michael presented the opportunity to build an organization that would use creative talents to serve those who were serving in place of us. [FHH] would be the vehicle in which I could serve on behalf of them.

Now, almost a year later, [Fashion Has Heart] is a 501(c)-(3) non-profit and non-partisan organization whose mission is to benefit wounded American heroes through the mediums of art, design and fashion.

Why this approach you might ask? Well, multiple studies have shown the positive results due to creative stimulation as a form of therapy. The first soldier we've had the privilege to working with is Corporal Josh Hoffman. Corporal Hoffman was hit by a sniper's bullet as he chased a suspected terrorist. The bullet entered his neck and exited his shoulder blade, shattering his upper spine and leaving him a quadriplegic along with the inability to talk. Josh spent the next 20 months away from his home, his friends, and his family in treatment and recovery. He has had pneumonia multiple times, urinary tract infections, and complete kidney failure. He almost died two times in the hospital from a spiked fever of 108 and nearly choked to death when he got mucous stuck in his throat. He has years of physical rehabilitation and therapy ahead of him, and faces a constant battle to regain movement in his upper body and develop his language skills. Through all of these challenges, however, Josh has kept an amazingly positive attitude and yearned to give back to his brothers and sisters in arms.

Inspired by a T-shirt given to Corporal Hoffman by [FHH], Josh decided he wanted to continue and pursue his lifelong dream of being a designer despite his injuries "total marine always faithful and never quitting. We spent over 60 hours with Josh designing the image on the shirt. The image shows the soldier's memorial weapon, boots, and helmet imagery along with "Total Sacrifice" spelled out in the code Josh uses to communicate. Once the image was in hand, Michael reached out to Mika Casey of MMA Warehouse, a strong troop supporter, for advice on how to get the garment to market. Mika introduced us to Ranger Up to help finalize and print the shirt. With Josh's direction and feedback, we developed the back, color scheme, and layout of the shirt featuring the quote, "The Nation which forgets its defenders will itself be forgotten." Because of this creative outlet Josh has gone from just merely trying to survive to now living his American dream.

You can learn about Josh and his design by visiting his website at www.thecorporalhoffmanseries.com. Proceeds from this shirt will go to Josh and to [Fashion Has Heart] to aid with providing future wounded soldiers this creative outlet to help in their recuperation.

This blog will recount the stories of American heroes who sacrificed much for their country; the role that art through community plays as a form of therapy as well as a communication channel; and everything in between that details what a start-up non-profit organization can accomplish with zero budget, but endless determination to make a difference.