Painting For Peace

He painted. It made him feel better. He thought it would help others. That’s the simple part of Jeff Sparr’s story. It’s the everything-in-the-middle part that can and will move you. In his 30-plus year battle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – a disorder of the brain and behavior defined by persistent thoughts and ritualistic behaviors that can interfere with daily activities and relationships – Sparr had good days and bad, until his days mostly became bad.

Thinking he had lost his mind, Sparr sought help at Butler Hospital, a leading psychiatric facility in Providence, R.I. Sparr eventually was diagnosed with OCD. After a friend recommended painting as a way to help deal with his anxiety, Sparr stopped by a local art supply store and bought some paints, brushes and canvases. He started painting. When an impromptu art show featuring his works and thrown together by his cousin, Matt Kaplan, sold more than $16,000 worth of paintings, Sparr was motivated into action.

Two weeks later, Kaplan and Sparr showed up at a Children’s Intensive Treatment Unit at Butler Hospital, where Sparr was both a patient and board member, with a huge bag of paints, brushes and canvases. After spending the ensuing hours – and weeks – motivating people with his therapeutic form of relief, Sparr started PeaceLove, a movement of hope and support for communities impacted by mental health disorders.

PeaceLove logoPeaceLove is driven by the help it receives from corporate partners such as CVS Health, Michaels, Zappos, Jockey Scrubs, Life is Good, and others. Each of these organizations continues to make incredible investments in time, energy and resources to grow and transform opportunities to support mental health and PeaceLove’s expressive arts programs.

While Sparr is the architect behind PeaceLove’s commitment to make a difference in the world of mental health, the journey to that decision was not an easy one. He knew he wanted to do more with his life and was determined to figure out how to use his experience to make a difference. It wasn’t until The Discovery Health Channel made a documentary on his life that the decision to be the face of mental health became clearer.

Watching the documentary, Sparr saw a calm, collected and inspirational person who spoke eloquently on a difficult topic. “It felt like I was seeing another version of myself, a far cry from the anxiety-stricken textile salesman I saw in the mirror,” he recalls.

Shortly afterward, Sparr went to his dad, who offered the advice he needed to move forward: “Figure out what you do better in life than anyone else.”

“I locked myself in my studio and started painting, trying to get all my thoughts out on the canvas,” says Sparr, co-founder of PeaceLove. “I kept painting my alter ego, the Peaceman, and found myself painting targets over the Peaceman’s head. Eventually I realized I had found my calling.”

PeaceLove-Art-Prints

The Peaceman is the driving force behind Sparr’s vision. On the outer ring of the target, he was a loving husband, father, son and friend, an empathetic man given his own struggles. Moving closer to the center, Sparr was a self-taught artist, one who understands the healing power of art firsthand. As the target got smaller, he was a teacher and mentor. As the target got smaller, he was an individual living with mental illness.

“If you don’t live it you can’t possibly know it,” Sparr says. “And there it was, in the center of it all – the bullseye – my calling. I realized I was someone who was uniquely qualified to communicate and articulate a message of hope for the millions impacted by mental illness and had a creative vision for what it would take.”

The mission for Sparr and Kaplan, who is the co-founder and CEO of PeaceLove, is clear cut: Help people create peace of mind and be a catalyst to change the way people think about mental health.

One of the ways they do that is through the sale of merchandise and support of its growing list of corporate partners. “There are a ton of great causes in the world, all of them important,” Kaplan says. “We provide our partners opportunities to do well by doing good. We collaborate with them to create merchandise that carries a message of hope in support of mental health. Proceeds from the sales provide life-changing expressive arts programs to communities in need. It’s a win, win, win.”

“There are a ton of great causes in the world, all of them important. We provide our partners opportunities to do well by doing good.”

Each brand is not only helping create awareness for PeaceLove and mental health, but some are even creating corporate level wellness initiatives for their employees. They also are providing volunteer opportunities within the communities they support to expand the PeaceLove brand and its mission.

One of PeaceLove’s biggest partnership success stories involves ALEX AND ANI. In May 2014, PeaceLove began to work with its Charity By Design division to create the “Peace of Mind” bangle, with the hope that consumers would connect with its message and signature paint splatter design. Together, they worked to share the PeaceLove story. To date, more than 60,000 bangles have been sold, with 20 percent of the profit going directly to support PeaceLove programs.

“More and more companies are investing in mental health,” Kaplan says. “The bottom line is that it’s good for business. We have met some brilliant people and organizations that are sincerely interested and passionate about bringing this challenge and opportunity to the forefront of their organizations and customers.”

Finding Your Passion Project

Take a quick snapshot of Corporate America today, and you will indeed see that more companies are helping brand their commitment into the communities and consumer groups they serve by taking on passion projects. Take American Express, which recently launched a six-month competition that’s mirrors a monthly Kickstarter for funding passion project ideas.

Under the American Express program’s guidelines, consumers were encouraged to submit an idea for a project by answering two questions: “What is your passion project?” and “Why is it important to you?”

The Twitter-friendly (140 characters each) competition awarded 10 winners, giving them $2,000 in gift cards to spend.

Marketing professionals like Chris Sizemore say that these types of efforts are proving that a company’s main barometer of success is transcending what its bottom line reads. “Many customers notice when a business or brand is involved in philanthropic efforts or is giving back to the community, which in turn creates a bottom line impact because they want to do business with you,” says Sizemore, co-founder and CEO of Creative Mischief, a national interactive design agency in Atlanta.

The real bottom line is that a successful company is a socially conscious one. “The stronger your brand connects with the community, the stronger your brand becomes,” Sizemore says. “Without a strong connection to philanthropy and the community, a brand is disconnected to its customer base.”

More than anything else, it shows integrity. Giving back makes a difference, which should be equally as important as anything else. Sizemore says that the “making a difference” part speaks more for a brand than the bottom line.

“Philanthropy and giving back can be a brand’s largest area of growth,” Sizemore says. “If a company focuses on cultivating new generations of philanthropists and getting involved in the community, they connect with their customers. Corporate clients see the benefit of working with a socially conscious company. If clients or consumers like a company’s product and like what the company stands for, they will want to do business with that company. Consumers will often feel a connection with a brand if they share the same values.”

“Philanthropy and giving back can be a brand’s largest area of growth. If a company focuses on cultivating new generations of philanthropists and getting involved in the community, they connect with their customers.”

Take a good hard look at the new Corporate America, and you might be pleasantly surprised by some of what you see. There has been a shift in business and commitment to social responsibility. Today’s companies are finding ways to cut costs and be more sustainable, and are repurposing the money they’re saving toward philanthropy and community work.

There are other benefits, too, as today’s businesses are helping their employees and clients make a difference. “Employees have begun to look at this as a factor in where they want to work, and customers and clients have begun to view this as a factor in how they do business with or where they spend their money,” Sizemore says. “Businesses are helping their employees and clients make a difference.”

For more information, visit http://www.peacelovestudios.com.

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