What Drives Us: February 2014

February 23, 2014: A few weeks ago, a good friend of mine looked at me and laughed. He told me that by the time I’m 40, if we keep up the frantic pace of Foundation projects I’ll have a full sleeve of wristbands running up and down my arm. He was referring to the display of texture and color on my wrist that I consistently make the people around me identify with.

I blame it on the power of the familiar silicone yellow band. Defined by circumference yet immeasurable in meaning, the revolutionary symbol of cause-related wristbands that began in 2004 has long out lived its short-term fad and permanently become a fixture on the wrists of millions of people across the world. Since we live in the burgeoning field of wearable technology, we should realize that we are a decade into the business of identifiable silicon (the less flattering version), or what you probably have on your wrist right now.

The emergence of cause related wristbands marked the beginning of a change in dynamic throughout the world of philanthropy. The ability to pay $1 for an association with a cause has morphed the entry point into being charitable so that all age and income groups, cultures and beyond can participate in something bigger than themselves. The next generation of philanthropists are younger, hungrier, and driven for demonstrable results, which often leads to a hands-on approach to solving the problems most important to us.

Having been on board with cause related wristbands since the beginning, I realize my widely shared experience is not breaking any new ground on the subject. I am merely shedding light on what’s behind the wristbands I wear, and what they mean to us at The Thomas E. Smith Foundation.

At the Boston Medical Center in 2009 after Tom’s second injury, the two of us made a commitment to each other that building a foundation to help those who were similarly situated would be our mission for years to come. Navigating uncharted territory together, we formed our organization in a difficult, yet necessary time. Soon after, we began amassing a support network that has grown stronger year-over-year. And of course, the blue band embossed with our logo and website hasn’t left my wrist since. My perpetual summer tan line, The Thomas E. Smith Foundation wristband stands for our mission and what we are trying to do for others, providing quality of life grants to those in need of support for physical therapy, equipment, home modifications, and transportation. Increasing the comfort and independence of our grant recipients is dramatically important, as is building relationships with those in the spinal cord injury community who we are working for. 

Joining the ensemble and breaking from the standard silicon version, two additional wristbands offer new forms of expression for inclusive projects that fall under the umbrella of The Thomas E. Smith Foundation. These philanthropic projects, known as The Look-Up Line™and Dance for Paralysis, both represent new ideas that are aimed at changing the scope of the injury for the better.

The Hoffzaz inspired Look-Up Line™ bracelet is our symbol for raising awareness about what we are trying to do to make the game of hockey safer. As hockey players, Tom and I believe that with a proper warning track surrounding the playing surface, The Look-Up Line™ provokes a thought in the players mind and serves as a frame of reference to the vicinity of the boards. To take it further, we partnered with Dr. Alan Ashare from USA Hockey to highlight that the difference between players going into the boards with their heads up, instead of down, can be remarkable and life changing. At 4 MPH, a player with their head down can sustain an axial loading fracture of a cervical vertebra. The fractured vertebra could then lacerate the spinal cord. From an organizational standpoint, we view this project as taking a preventative approach to an injury that there has only been the opportunity to be reactive to. Our mission has been to provide individuals and their families with quality of life grants to support them after their injury, but by introducing the warning track idea, the goal is to prevent the injury from happening in the first place.

Last up, the braided baby blue and black Dance for Paralysis X Krewella X Electric Family bracelet is meant to showcase that music can be a motivator to help those with paralysis continue to push forward through life, therapy, and challenges with a powerful rhythm. All genres of music have the ability to capture our attention, whether it’s a waltz or rave; music is what gets us moving. With music seen as a universal language, connecting with new audiences through our partnership with Krewella will help raise awareness and funds for those in the spinal cord injury community. We love being part of a progressive and colorful movement that believes in what we are doing.

Each of our cause related wristbands yield an inclusive feeling. Wide-ranging and diverse, we’ve gone beyond the standard version and appealed to different communities based on our knowledge of what motivates them. We are using hockey, the same game that brought about our mission, to educate the masses that a safer framework exists. We are using music to get people inspired, and ready to dance when the time comes when we’ve found a cure.

The next generation of philanthropy is about young people bringing energy and commitment to projects that they find value in. Contributions will remain vitally important to the survival of organizations, but the increase in appetite for making a difference in the world will help promote the entrepreneurial spirit guiding these young group of leaders and foundations.

Finding the causes you believe in takes time and thought, and obviously extends much further than what you wear on your wrist. To us, we’ll always be humbled to see someone wearing one of our wristbands and repping our cause.  Our identifiable accessories that range from blue silicon, to hockey lace, to braided fabric represents our diverse goals across many different platforms. The point is, no matter what wristband you wear or whom you wear it for, it’s important knowing why it’s an integral part of our daily expression. With wristbands serving as one entry point to charitable endeavors, let them unlock the potential to show people and causes that they matter to you, and that there’s a lot more behind them than just what they’re made from.


Author: Co-Founder J. Tucker Mullin