Tuesday, February 25, 2014

You make my life better :)

Today I woke up and just wanted to tell you all how much you mean to me and how much better my life has become since starting Paper Clouds Apparel. This business came to fruition from seeing a drawing hanging on the fridge of my parents home in Chico, CA. None of my siblings or myself have children so I was confused as to what this drawing was doing on my fridge. I asked my mother, a bus driver for children with special needs, to tell me the story behind this drawing. She then explained to me that a little girl on her route would draw the whole ride to school and often give her drawings to her. I spent the whole night mesmerized by this great piece of art. I couldn't get it out of my head and the next morning I awoke with the idea of how cool these drawings would look on a shirt. I came up with the idea that I could start a business that gives those with special needs a place to showcase their creative abilities and artistic talents and we would give 50% of the profit back to the special needs school, organization or cause that the artist attended or chose.

 (The art that started it all)

After coming up with the idea for Paper Clouds Apparel I had to come up with the money required to start the business. So for three years I worked all the jobs I could: road construction, bartending, bouncer, you name it, I was willing to do it to get the money needed to get PCA off the ground. A loan wasn't really a possibility due to the fact if I went into a bank and told them I was planning on giving away 50% of the profits they would have promptly shown me the door. I also didn't want to take on investors and have them have the ability to tell me how to run the business and have the authority to change how much we give back. So I did it all on my own and so happy that I was able to launch Paper Clouds Apparel. 

(Our first every shirt)

For two years I would just gather artwork from a Phoenix habilitation center and print up a lot of shirts and post them on a poorly constructed website and hope they sold. I always wanted to help those with special needs nationwide and then came up with the idea how to do so. Every two weeks we would team up with a different special needs cause, school, or organization and put out new designs every week. We would order and print the shirts at the completion of the two week campaign and this would give us the ability to have an actual profit and be able to hire adults with special needs to package ALL our shirts ! I really wanted to do this after reading studies that stated that anywhere from 80-93% of adults with special needs were unemployed. 

(Some of our amazing workers)

Since our change in the way we operate in January of 2013 we have been blessed enough to hire over 100 adults with special needs to fold and package our apparel. The times spent with them as they package our shirts is such an amazing time for me. These individuals work so hard and want to do an amazing job. They take such pride in their work and I could not be prouder of them all. I pray one day we will have many more businesses giving those with special needs a job.

(My mother, the inspiration behind PCA)

One of the most amazing byproducts of starting this business has been the changes these projects have brought to the artists with special needs and their families. Paper Clouds Apparel is still a very small business and I still work a full-time job and end up working 80-90 hour work weeks. At times I can feel the stress of the business bearing down on me. Somehow whenever I get to feel pressure I will receive an email or message from one of these amazing families and it snaps me right out of it and reminds me why I am doing this and how I need to turn it up and work even harder so we can grow and help even more individuals with special needs. 

(Collin in wearing HIS design and the letter he wrote me)

Collin is one of the people who inspires and motivates me. I met Collin through his loving and fantastic mother Tammy. Collin has autism and was having a hard time just getting through his days and it was hard on the whole family. Then they found Common Threads Family Resource Center and things got much better. Tammy said they "Brought a smile back to my son" Common Threads needed a smartboard to help their students be able to learn. So we teamed up and it was one of our biggest campaigns when we first launched. Then a local news station picked up on the story and they were able to get TWO smart boards. After the campaign concluded I received this picture of Collin wearing a shirt with his art on it and a Thank You letter from him ! I am so blessed to know this amazing family.

(My buddy Logan and his prom date MacKenzie)

Another amazing and inspiring family we met through the amazing Facebook page The Crumb Diaries. A mother basically writing about her life with a son with special needs and their amazing interactions. Once you visit this page you will instantly fall in love and become addicted. Logan has created many designs for us and his campaigns have been our most successful to date. Recently this was posted on The Crumb Diaries and I was brought to tears of joy for Logan and proud that people like MacKenzie are out there.

"As you know, having Apraxia makes speaking difficult for Logan, so last night he colored a sign, picked out some flowers and put on a suit and tie to ask MacKenzie to prom. Here is his invitation..and here is her reply MacKenzie is not challenged, or differently abled... but she is special. She is a young lady who Logan admired last year, watching her as she led our high schools cheer squad. She is a girl who has always greeted him with a kind smile or hello when passing. She is a person who is taking time out of her busy college schedule to accompany Logan to a milestone event.
For kids like Logan, sitting next to a "pretty durl" and being treated with kindness and respect means the world. We are changing the face of our special needs youth, one friendship at a time."
(Ethan is pretty happy with his PCA Christmas shirt)

Another amazing family I have been contacted by is the Tompkins family. Scott and Jodie are always sharing our posts on Facebook and leaving comments and then they begin sending me messages and I have been so touched by them that I just had to share.The following is a compilation of some of the messages I have been sent by the Tompkins

"lol its his favorite shirt..the only one he doesn't try to pull of
Seriously thank you for being you
Giving people with special needs dignity, pride...priceless
I am only beginning my journey with my son and it makes me so happy to know there are people like you in the world to make a difference and I need that after a very rough start to our journey.
I felt like no one cared about anything but money and even though we do ok for ourselves we were in a bind..no assistance or anything. We were stuck. No local programs, nothing. I had to take him out of therapy because I couldn't afford to take him. I paid them, they haven't even contacted me to get him back in. I've had to do all the footwork, research. 6 months later, life's a lot brighter, thanks to people like you. Don't ever change! I am a lucky person to be my kids mom. He is AMAZING. So smart and wonderful, just wired different. He is going to grow up to do great things.. I guarantee it"
 (Ethan in his Sky shirt created by William)

Just the other day I received the picture above from the Tompkins of Ethan in his new shirt and they had this to say

"He loves it! He said "ooooh my sky shirt" as soon as we opened it. Keep up the good work guys! Ps.. He is very happy to know William also likes Angry Birds! (He saw his yellow angry bird socks in the picture you posted and said "look mommy he has angry bird socks like me too!")"
Hearing how we can affect these families and show others with special needs that we feature art created by people "just like me" really makes me happy and gives me the strength to keep putting in 80-90 hour work weeks and make Paper Clouds Apparel a huge success and help millions with special needs. 

(Exactly how I feel every day running PCA)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

My newest hero Bronson !!!

I was contacted a couple months ago by a woman named Shannon who was curious about how we find our artists with special needs and I explained to her that most come directly from the organization we have teamed up with but a few come to us with their art and we then ask them if their is a special needs cause they have a connection with and they would like to help raise funding for. Shannon sent me scans of art her son Bronson created and when she mentioned helping the Golden Heart Ranch, I did a little research on them and fell in love with what they do. The Golden Heart Ranch provides a safe, living and working environment for adults with special needs. Hope you will support this amazing ranch by purchasing one of the super cool Dino Chase designs created by Bronson.

(The amazing Bronson)

Bronson is 10 years old, he was diagnosed with Autism when he was just 2.  A strategy that worked well was to draw him a list of what was going to happen.  He took our simple stick pictures are turned them into a way to communicate to us. 

 (The amazing Dino Chase design Bronson created)

 Bronson loves Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion and Tower of Terror, and all roller coasters! If he’s not riding the roller coasters he is drawing or building them.  Baron is Bronson’s big brother and he is the best big brother around, Bronson really started drawing a lot when he changed schools to attend an Autism ABA Class, he drew a picture of Baron to bring to school with him everyday.  

 (Bronson goofing around)

 Bronson is very active he loves to go camping, ride his quad, play in the ocean and ride the wave runners.   

(Bronson riding his quad)

I hope you loved learning a little about Bronson and hope you will purchase one of his limited edition, wearable pieces of art. Do something amazing today and support a young child with autism and a ranch that gives many adults with special needs a place to thrive. Thank you so much

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Tale of Two Brothers

Earlier this year I was contacted by a woman named Sarah who was trying to raise the money needed to get the service dog her young boy with autism needed. I loved her story of her two sons, both with special needs, who brighten up her life. I just had to help and so they are part of our Triple the Fun campaign. Here is their story and hope you will pick up one of our Robot products and help this amazing family. Sarah wrote the following about her two boys;

(The Robot Ian drew to help out his brother Connor)

 Ian, now 8, was diagnosed with Asperger’s at the age of four.  Conner, now 4 1/2 was officially diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder a year ago.  Both have had and are continuing their share of struggles, but are wonderful boys.  Ian has struggled with social situations, managing his emotions and extreme anxiety.  Despite his struggles he is an amazing and creative individual who gives so much of himself to help his brother, Conner.  Ian was overjoyed to have the opportunity to create some artwork that would help raise funds for Conner’s Autism Service Dog. 

(Ian and Connor goofing off)

Conner is still struggling with speech, communication, safety issues, wandering, running away, crowded places, loud noises, transitioning, feeding, social issues and anxiety.  As you can see this world can be a very scary place for Conner.  But he finds comfort and happiness when he is around animals, especially dogs.  When Conner is around dogs he lights up and his whole body is filled with happiness.  His challenges are minimized and he opens up and brings you into his little world.  An autism service dog, as his constant companion will help him be safer when out in public, give him comfort and help him transition from one activity to another without so much anxiety.  Essentially the service dog will make this world easier and safer for Conner to live in.

(Connor out Christmas tree hunting)

 With all of the struggles that our family has endured, Conner and Ian have developed patience, empathy and pure love for those around them and especially each other.  Despite their day to day struggles and stresses, Conner and Ian show us every day just how wonderful they are and make us feel special.  

(One of our Robot products helping Connor)

All of us at Paper Clouds Apparel really hope you will help get Connor the dog he desperately needs and get yourself a fun shirt, bag, or hat in the process. Make your clothing matter ! Thank you

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Garrison the Great :)

Paper Clouds Apparel is a very small operation. So small that when our workers with special needs have finished folding and packaging the shirts, it is the job of myself, Robert Thornton, Founder and CEO, to write out the handwritten personalized thank you letters, weigh, stamp and ship out each order. Doing this I began to notice some familiar names. One name came up with an order from every campaign, Heather Massey Hopkins ! So I reached out to Heather to let her know how special and important she was to us, and she let me know how important WE are to her !!! Getting to know her and her path in this life I got to know about her amazing son Garrison who has autism. When I decided to do a campaign featuring three smaller causes I knew I had to include Garrison and his Special Olympics cause, The Alliance All Star's ! I asked Heather to tell me about Garrison and after reading what she wrote you too will love this amazing family and hopefully show them support and pick up one of Garrisons amazing designs.

(Garrison with his Gold Medal)

Garrison is a 6’1” 15 year old boy who is funny, brilliant, kind, loving, protective and incredibly handsome. He also has Autism.  When Garrison was diagnosed at 4 years old, it was devastating at first. But then, his dad and I decided right then and there, we would never let Autism define who Garrison was, and it never has.  Garrison’s love for animals started from the beginning. He was always drawn to them.  You can ask him any question about any animal that has ever roamed the planet and he will probably be able to tell you anything and everything you want to know about it.  Garrison views people as animals. So much so, that he will give you “your animal” if you ask him. He happens to be a zebra! 
(Jungle Fun created by Garrison)
Garrison is a freshman in high school and he absolutely loves it. He has been blessed with amazing teachers since Kindergarten.  We aren’t quite sure how we got so lucky but we have been blessed with some amazing teachers who have changed all of our lives.  In fact, we are still in touch with almost all of them.  Garrison loves to laugh. He has such a great laugh that brings a smile to everyone who hears it.  He loves to be silly and tickle his mom and sisters.  Since his father passed away 19 months ago, Garrison has truly matured and taken on the role of “man of the house”. I have witnessed him do things I never thought possible.  His love for me and his 3 sisters is such a beautiful thing to witness.  He loves to play the Wii, watch cartoons, watch you tube videos about animals and dinosaurs and he LOVES going to the zoo.  
(Garrison at the Special Olympics with his Gold Medal)
Garrison LOVES his Special Olympics team. Especially his coach Meagan Fulbright.  He plays basketball, bowls, and runs track. He loves it when he wins gold.  When he doesn’t, well we wont talk about that. Garrison has developed so many skills thanks to our coach. He has made some wonderful friends and experienced things that without this program, he may never have had the opportunity.  In Texas, our Special Olympics teams are funded by the school districts.  Our team, the Alliance All-Stars is unique in that we are not. So it is up to the parents and coach to pay for everything or fundraise as much as we can! So thank you Paper Clouds Apparel for helping out a team that most desperately needs it to keep going!
Garrison is the most amazing son I could have asked for. What an incredible joy he brings to our lives every single day. I wouldn’t change one thing about him.

(Heather and her amazing son Garrison)

After reading that you can feel the love in this family and we at Paper Clouds Apparel all feel honored that the Hopkins family is a part of the Paper Clouds Apparel family. We love you :)