For children facing medical, physical and socioeconomic disadvantages, the road to recovery or community engagement can be tough, but Portraits of Hope, a nonprofit organization in Santa Monica, Calif., is dedicated to helping those children rise above their situations with creative therapy. Co-founders and brothers Bernie Massey and Ed Massey established Portraits of Hope in 1995 and have since helped children create pieces of art on civic applications ranging from airplanes, buildings, a taxi fleet, blimps, tugboats and NASCAR racecars.
In Portraits of Hope’s most recent project, it created 30 rescue vehicle wraps in Aspen, Colo., for the children to paint. The participating agencies included the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department, Snowmass Wildcat Fire District, Aspen Ambulance District, Pitkin County Sheriff’s Department, Aspen Police Department and Mountain Rescue Aspen, and child involvement came from the Roaring Fork Valley region in Colorado, Denver and Los Angeles. To these children, decorating rescue vehicles was an especially meaningful task.
Ingeniously creative ideas come into play when working with children who have difficulty getting down on the ground to paint.
“We’ve asked kids who they most admire in their communities, and they often say firefighters and EMTs—people who go out and save others’ lives,” Bernie Massey says. “For many kids, their lives were saved by an EMT or firefighter, so we wanted to do a project that would resonate with the kids.”
For Jim Richardson, Ambulance director of Aspen Valley Hospital, the project sounded a bit too good to be true when he was first approached about it.
“I began to look into what were the disadvantages,” Richardson says. “I looked at it from a very ‘I wonder what’s wrong with this’ perspective. And all the research I did was all very positive. Portraits of Hope is a good organization, the places that have participated in it before were very happy. As they shared more information and talked about it more, I thought, ‘Wow, this really has potential.’”
Portraits of Hope reached out to Imagic, a digital printing company in Burbank, Calif., to help create the wraps. Considering that emergency vehicles were the center of this project, Imagic did not have any templates and had to design them from scratch, says David Allman, managing partner of Imagic. To create the templates, the Aspen-Snowmass rescue agencies provided Imagic with mechanical drawings, and from there, Imagic designed the templates based on those specifications.
Installers got a hand from the folks at YelloTools, who donated wraps tool pouches to each of the installers.
Once the templates were ready, Imagic sent the files to the Portraits of Hope designer to create the layouts with the flower patterns, Allman says. Portraits of Hope and Imagic worked closely together during this process to ensure all vehicles were accounted for and matched the specifications. The layout process took about four to five weeks, and when that was complete, Imagic used its HP Scitex XL inkjet printer to print the design onto vinyl donated by MACtac.
“This year, MACtac donated 35 rolls of IMAGin JT5529BFD bubble-free adhesive vinyl,” says Jeff Stadelman, technical marketing manager of MACtac Distributor Products. “Knowing that our donation, in collaboration with outside installers and printers, could help so many children through creative therapy has been a very rewarding opportunity for our graphics team. We look forward to our continued partnership with Portraits of Hope to help more children in the future.”
Now that the printing was finished, Imagic trimmed the vinyl, laid it out to ensure the panels matched, and sent it off for the children to paint, Allman says. When the vinyl was returned after painting, Imagic sealed the vinyl with a clear coat, and then shipped it to Aspen for installation. Andy Boyle, manager of Laird Plastics, a plastics distributor in Boca Raton, Fla., helped with the shipping logistics and donated freight and warehousing. For Allman, working on this Portraits of Hope project was a positive experience.
“Anything that can improve a child’s day-to-day existence when they’re struggling is important to me,” Allman says. “I love kids, and putting a smile on any kid’s face is a great thing. It’s a great cause, and the Massey brothers are tremendous guys who are very dedicated to their cause.”
Richardson was able to watch as the children created the new decorations for his department’s ambulances.
“We had taken the vinyl panels to Children’s Hospital in Denver and the Denver Health Medical Center to the different wards and the pediatric areas and they had actually painted the panels,” Richardson says. “When you saw the smiles on those kids faces. It’s a pretty unique approach as far as the actual application on the panels. They were interested, engaged, smiling and happy and really seemed to enjoy the opportunity.”
The experience was very moving for volunteer coordinator Kimberly Schlosser.
These are not your typical vehicles. They don’t come with templates. Each individual vehicle needed to be measured.
“Not only did my family get to participate locally, but we were also able to travel to Denver to help patients at Children’s Hospital,” Schlosser says. “All five of us painted with children with terminal illnesses as well as children with severe disabilities. I have never been so proud of my children as they patiently and lovingly helped these patients paint the panels. We were also invited into the ICU, where Portraits of Hope clearly made a major difference in the lives of a few patients. This experience was transformative for everyone involved.”
To install the wrap, Portraits of Hope brought in Vinyl Touch Graphics, a wrap shop in Elmwood Park, Ill., which has worked with Imagic for a number of years. Vinyl Touch Graphics sent a team of eight installers to Aspen for a project that was unique to them, says Dave Cepeda, lead installer and project manager.
“My main challenge was I’ve never installed a fire truck before,” Cepeda says. “I’ve been installing for years, but there were so many different curves and concaved surfaces that it was challenging. We treated it as a custom full wrap vehicle with the utmost respect to the surface and process of installing; it just happened to be on a larger scale.”
While all vehicles have curves to them, the rescue vehicles had more extreme surfaces, which required a greater deal of vinyl manipulation using heat guns, Cepeda says. A car wrap typically takes Vinyl Touch Graphics approximately six to seven hours to complete, but given the complexity of these wraps, it took closer to nine to 10 hours. In total, installation lasted just under two weeks.
For the children, working on such a significant project has a major impact in their lives, Bernie Massey says. Many of the participating children suffer from self-esteem issues, especially those who are hospitalized, and this creative therapy is often the initial step to recovery. In fact, the Massey brothers frequently learn from nurses and doctors that participating in Portraits of Hope is the first activity the children have interacted with since their treatment.
“For a lot of other kids, it’s an opportunity just to move their bodies,” Bernie Massey says. “We even have mouth brushes, shoe brushes and telescopic paintbrushes. For children at the Braille Institute, we texturize the panel, so they could participate. It’s intended to be a fun activity to get their minds’ off their conditions and bring a little childhood back.”
As for the residents of Aspen, the newly decorated emergency vehicles have some people scratching their heads.
We’ve gotten a variety of reactions,” Richardson says. “The initial reaction was very, ‘This is weird, why are you doing this?’ We had a little postcard made up with information on Portraits of Hope, their website and the fact that kids drew it. A lot of people thought it was drawn directly onto the ambulances and fire trucks. But once you start telling people the story behind it and once you start explaining it to them and the entire process, I would say we got almost universal acceptance.”
The conversations the vehicles have started have really helped to promote the Portraits of Hope effort.
“The community’s response has been overwhelmingly positive,” Schlosser says. “Yes, I have had to explain the floral panels to everyone as most people just assume they are ‘decorations.’ Once I explain to them the purpose/mission behind POH and all about everyone who has participated in the project, they cannot believe what they are hearing.
“Portraits of Hope has been one of the most rewarding and awe-inspiring projects I have ever worked on,” she says. “From the overwhelming response of friends, parents and emergency responders who came and volunteered at the painting sessions, to the camaraderie among the students while participating, to watching the floral panels go from blank canvases to pieces of art adorning our emergency vehicles, it has been incredibly fulfilling and unforgettable.”