What started as a conversation over coffee, sparked the idea of a roadtrip across 50 states to live their dreams of sharing people’s stories. Husband-and-wife duo Tyler Way and Kendra Clapp Olguin, along with their cat, are traveling across the country to ensure the completion of their goal.
The two are directors of a Michigan-based non-profit called HasHeart. This project began when Way was having coffee with his veteran friend and fellow co-founder, Michael Hyacinthe. They both realized what they describe as a ‘disconnect between two worlds,’ when it comes to veteran’s lives and designer’s lives.
As a solution to bridge the disconnect, they believed that sharing the stories of veterans through the form of creative art would have a profound impact.
“Our mission of the organization is to to share [veteran's] story through the mediums of art, design and fashion,” Way said.
After creating their first design with a quadriplegic Marine Veteran, they realized the impact that it brought and wanted to continue in the similar format.
Clapp Olguin decided to take part in the nonprofit, leaving behind her job as a high-end fashion buyer. She serves as the communications director of the non-profit. She found a passion in sharing people’s stories, and she felt that the nonprofit would be the best way to achieve that.
Clapp Olguin also had a personal connection to the nonprofit’s mission with her father as a veteran. She credits her personal connection as an influential reasoning to share other veteran’s stories.
Clapp Olguin studied Journalism as an undergraduate and had specific interest in Latino/a Studies.
Coming from a Latinx background has lead Clapp Olguin to make it her mission to highlight all types of veterans.
“[I have] learned that people of color are part of the process too,” Clapp Olguin said.
With HasHeart based in Michigan, Clapp Olguin and Way would work with veterans within the state.
Following a few projects done by the couple, the two showcased all of the work as an art gallery and pop up shop in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Despite all the amazing products that have been created, the couple felt they needed to hear and showcase other veteran’s stories. Way and Clapp Olguin wanted to broaden the impact of this project to other veterans across the country.
“We want to experience people in various communities [because] culture is special,” Clapp Olguin said.
This is what began their hashtag, #50statesHasHeart.
Once they purchased a trailer van, the couple was ready to start their journey. Their focus was to share one veteran’s story from each state.
Way and Clapp Olguin described that for the project to be a success, it takes about a two-day process for each story.
The designers that are a part of the nonprofit are recruited through one of HasHeart’s sponsorships, American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA). According to AIGA’s website, the organization has more than 70 chapters nationwide and over 25,000 members. The website also states design is seen as a professional craft and a vital cultural force.
In each state, Clapp Olguin and Way pair one of their designers with a veteran. To recruit veterans for the projects, some of them in certain regions are usually contacted through referrals.
Throughout the two-day process, the designer meets with the veteran to learn their stories and to brainstorm design ideas. After the process, the designer creates a design that is reflective of the veteran’s story.
The design is then replicated on a t-shirt and a patch and both the designer and veteran get to keep the finished artwork.
“[When] dealing with people’s lives, we want to give it justice ... especially with people from the military,” Clapp Olguin said.
The couple made a stop in Iowa in late October, the state was marked as their 31st state visited during their journey. While in Des Moines, Way and Clapp Olguin met with Matt Martin, a United States Marine veteran and his appointed designer, Ashleigh Brady.
The couple even extended their stay and made a trip to Iowa State, in which they presented to the introductory class for U.S. Latino/a Studies on their project.
Clapp Olguin said she is close friends with Iowa State professor Megan Myers, assistant professor in the Department of World Languages and Cultures, who teaches the introductory class.
Myers pointed out in her class to her students that many veterans that have been a part of the HasHeart project are from Latinx origins that correlate to topics and discussions in the class’ curriculum.
While presenting to the class, Way and Clapp Olguin told students struggles and highlighted the best parts of their trip.
“[We] allow ourselves to see people as friends and neighbors [and to] inspire people to have a conversation,” Way said.
The two said that they fully fund all the expenses for the traveling, however all the expenses can add up over time. They said their funding had to be dependent on sponsors and donations from outside sources.
“People keep us going,” Clapp Olguin said. “We trust that we are doing this for the right reasons.”
As the couple continues to their next stop, when asked by students what kind of impact they hope to leave, they answered that their hope is to raise awareness.
“Be apart of something bigger than yourself,” Clapp Olguin said.