HAS HEART: Where Veterans and Artists Unite

By author of The Realblog with Stephanie Mallory

Realtree veterans ask for your support of this organization

On this day we honor military veterans throughout the country and want to tell you about an organization that has positively influenced two of Realtree’s own veterans.

Realtree’s art director, Richard Longhi, and graphic designer Wakenia Leonard say HAS HEART, an organization that utilizes the mediums of art, design and fashion to uplift and inspire U.S. veterans, has made a long-lasting impact in their lives, and they are requesting your help so that other veterans can experience what HAS HEART has to offer.

The Michigan-based organization, founded by U.S. veteran Michael Hyacinthe and artist/designer Tyler Way, partners a veteran with a designer to share his or her message. The two-day collaborative design process starts over a cup of coffee, where the two get to know one another by sharing stories and asking questions, all while brainstorming design concepts. As the veteran shares his or her story, the artist picks up on keywords, phrases, images, symbols and mottos of importance. As a storyline develops, the two begin to narrow down their design options, eventually honing in on a single concept that best shares their meaningful message with the world.

The design created by the veteran and artist is then produced into products such as t-shirts and embroidered patches to be shared, exhibited and sold to the civilian population. Products can be purchased in the HAS HEART Shop, with 25% of proceeds benefitting each veteran and his or her family.

HAS HEART discovered that through uniting veterans with creatives to help them share their stories, they are able to initiate conversation, build understanding, generate support and engage younger generations of Americans that otherwise would remain detached from their own community.

After witnessing the impact HAS HEART had in their local Michigan community, Way and his wife, Kendra Clapp Olguín, the organization’s communications director, knew they needed to reach more veterans, creatives and civilians. So in July 2017, they began the “50 States: Veterans + Artists United” tour during which time they lived and worked on the road, traveling from state to state to partner one veteran with one artist in all 50 states with the mission to share each veteran’s story through the mediums of art, design and fashion.

"We made it to 39 states, and worked with over 50 veterans and 125 creatives before our initial funding was fully deployed,” Way said. “We've accomplished all these projects so far, but our greatest accomplishments are when veterans tell us how this experience and outlet and perspective have changed their lives. Those moments are our best accomplishments."

This is how Realtree’s Longhi and Leonard got involved. Longhi was asked to be the Georgia designer, and he paired up with Leonard to tell her story through art.

“My greatest takeaway from this project begins with the veteran I was paired with, my friend and co-worker, Wakenia Leonard,” Longhi said. “We have worked together at Realtree for over 10 years. While I was familiar with her prior service in the Army, this project helped me to truly understand her experience and how it helped to shape her life. I was honored to be on this journey with her, which in turn also allowed me time for self-reflection of my own experiences while serving as well.”

Leonard says every veteran has a story, and every story is unique. “I feel that most veterans may not necessarily get the opportunity or platform to tell that story, but through HAS HEART, others can hear of the challenges and triumphs of different veterans from various branches of service.”

The Georgia project and design has not been launched yet, but you can watch the video documentary of the project above.

Way says veterans' voices, such as Longhi's and Leonard’s, deserve to be heard, experienced and understood, but they can’t do it alone, and are requesting donations to complete the 50-state project.

Longhi says finishing the 50-state project is important because each and every story deserves to be told. “People need to hear and see these experiences. Tyler and Kendra have sacrificed so much to help bring these stories to life and are just 11 states shy of reaching their goal.”

Once the tour is completed, the nationwide mission will be compiled into a coffee table book, documentary film and traveling art exhibit to reach a new audience of Americans that may not otherwise have the awareness of veterans’ experience and their sacrifices. 

Click here to donate to HAS HEART.