LCI Blog: Home, Sweet Home

David Landis, your humble LCI President here.

Most people don’t know this, but I have a great deal of family in Anchorage, Alaska. In a way, it’s kind of my second home. My Uncle Paul – who in many ways is my role model for how to lead life (take chances, support the arts, have fun and give back to the community) – went there first, following the love of his life, now my Aunt Joan. Then my sister Kate (one of my true heroes in life), with her husband Lenny, followed. Then came nephews Nick & Ben.

So when my pal and uber-PR guru Esther Perman called and asked if I could help her with a campaign in Alaska, I jumped at the chance. See, I could help with her client and spend time with the Landis clan at the same time.

At least that’s how I saw it before I departed.

Anchorage couldn’t be more different than San Francisco. First, it was 65 degrees when I left S.F. and it was 19 degrees and snowing when I landed in Anchorage. While S.F. is a mature, sophisticated city, Anchorage is still by all accounts a small town and, frankly, the wild, wild west. And did I mention cold?

I was asked to go help with a longstanding client, Benjamin Moore, who is overseeing an amazing gift to the country. Benjamin Moore is helping paint 50 shelters in 50 cities (plus Washington, D.C.) in 50 days. Unbelievable. The program is called Color Care Across America and is a partnership with the U.S. Conference of Mayors. In Anchorage, they painted a wonderful place called Bean’s Café, which helps feed the needy.

Frankly, I live a pretty nice life in California and haven’t truly been exposed firsthand to the issue of homelessness. So I was anxious to learn.

The first night, I saw my family who was willing to loan me their 4-wheel-drive car. But the snow kept falling and falling and falling. Even the Alaskan Landises thought it was a bad idea for me to drive the next day.

My adventure started Monday morning when I planned to make the rounds to the local media outlets – bagels in hand (My mother, Laverne Shirley Landis, always said bring
a gift!). With the snow continuing to pile up and no available taxis, I was at a loss as to how to navigate Anchorage with 6 dozen bagels.

Staying at the Sheraton Anchorage, I humbly asked the front desk if they could help. Lo and behold, a wonderful man named Dave who worked the night shift said he’d be happy to take me around. We bundled into his van and began our journey through the drifting snow (apparently Anchorage doesn’t believe in snow plows). And I heard his story.

You see, Dave had been homeless. In Anchorage. We’re not talking 65 degrees and sunny San Francisco. We’re talking 19 degrees, snowy, blustery, windy, cold Anchorage. It turns out, he’d had meals at Bean’s Café. Dave lived on the street. But he was one of the lucky ones. He made it. 66 people died in Anchorage on the streets last year.

Dave’s dad told him that he could change his life. And he did. He got into a training program with the Sheraton and now has a great job. And I’m sure those meals at Bean’s Café helped.

We made our rounds to the media outlets and, despite getting stuck in a couple of
snowbanks, we made it through the storm to Bean’s Cafe.

What an incredible place. The buzz of the kitchen combined with a complete painting overhaul in progress was exhilarating. Steve Lozano of local Benjamin Moore retailer Curtis & Campbell had lined up three local paint contractors – each of which was donating their services. One was Benjamin Campbell (of the Campbell family that started Curtis & Campbell), as well as Victor & Matt Trujillo of Magic Painting & Taping and Jose Hernandez of Hernandez Painting.

Bean’s Café served close to 100,000 meals last year. But the facility hadn’t been painted in almost a decade. It showed. Lots of smudges and dirty walls, and more than that just kind of a pale off-white permeated the facility. I learned through this process how color can actually make a house a true home. Warm yellows started appearing, with accents of rust brown and steel blue. Suddenly, Bean’s Café exhibited the life,
warmth and character that it demonstrates to its guests every day.

I met some memorable folks at Bean’s. One gentleman was a Native Alaskan (whose name I’ve since forgotten) who has volunteered at Bean’s for 30 years. He had just been beaten up by a teenager – and it showed. But nothing would deter
him from serving coffee to the kitchen staff.

I met Jim Crockett, Bean’s Café’s charismatic Executive Director, who talked about how the Café has started a program called the Lunch Box to make sure every student in Anchorage who needs a meal gets one. The program also provides needy students with a weekend’s worth of meals at school on Friday. He also told me about their holiday gift program, called the Beanie Boxes. Anyone can buy a box to be given to one of Bean’s clients so they receive a gift they can use this holiday season.

The followed day, Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan visited Bean’s and even pitched in with a paintbrush. Benjamin Moore’s Jim Delanty adeptly oversaw the entire process, donning his overalls to help out as well. By the end of Tuesday, Bean’s Café was looking good.

So what did I learn? I learned the value of giving; I learned how color can transform lives; I learned how people, despite all odds, can turn their lives around. And I saw firsthand how people continue to help others even when it’s not so easy to do or when the economy doesn’t cooperate.

Most of all, I am thankful to have a roof over my head, 3 square meals a day and heat on a winter’s night. Let us never forget – or forget to help – the millions of Americans who don’t have this privilege (but should).

Finally, I learned that Anchorage is looking more and more like
home.

Please comment below and/or email with your thoughts about home – and how to help the homeless this holiday season: [email protected]

Please also take a look at some of the videos on Benjamin Moore’s Color Care Across America’s Facebook page. And don’t forget to help out Bean’s Cafe this holiday season.

 

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21 Comments

  1. Jordana Reply

    David, what a great story. It sounds like the folks in Anchorage have a real sense of chivalry…something we San Franciscans are still working on! It was such a pleasure and a privilege to work with the team for Color Care Across America – a wonderful cause (and just in time for the holidays).

    • David Landis Reply

      Thanks, Jordana – and thanks for all your help; your hard work was part of this project’s great success.

  2. Rob Reply

    David — Homelessness is terrible anywhere, but particularly tragic in Alaska, where helping is more than a matter of caring, but a very real matter of life and death. It’s been great to be part of this special campaign. Glad that LCI played a role to support this noble effort. Also glad you got to see your AK family! — Rob

    • david Reply

      Rob – I agree. When I learned that people actually LIVE on the streets of Anchorage, I was flabbergasted. A great lesson here is that some small steps can make big differences in people’s lives. Thanks also for your help on this project.

  3. Sandra Reply

    David,
    What an wonderful act that you and your colleagues at Benjamin Moore conducted! As an avid supporter of Rafael House in SF, another caring place that helps homeless families, I was inspired by your story. And major kudos to Dave for getting himself off the street. That is no small feat!

    Sandra

    • david Reply

      Thanks, Sandra. And you may not know this – but your work with Rafael House is one of the sources of inspiration for helping me realize we can all get involved. Thank you.

  4. Elise Patkotak Reply

    David – Thanks for inviting me to be a part of what was going on at Bean’s last week. I’ve worked in human services for over 30 years in Alaska and I can’t tell you how much something as simple as brightening up a space with paint can mean… especially during our long dark winter days.
    I encourage everyone to support your local soup kitchen. And if you want to make a donation of a Beanie Box, please go to http://www.beanscafe.org to find out what what they’d like in that box.
    And yes, David, it continued to snow here for the rest of the week after you left. I think that’s why your family has all fled to Hawaii and left me with no one to help build my snowman.

    • david Reply

      Elise – thanks for making my trip special and being such a great chaperone. . .loved Larry’s Cocoon, too! Keep up the good work calling all those in power to task. Anchorage deserves great writing like yours. Cheers, David

  5. Aaron Blank Reply

    I had no idea you have alaskan connections. A great story and a cool campaign. Great work.

    • david Reply

      Thanks for noticing, Aaron. We’ll get you to Alaska some day! Cheers, David

  6. Scott Hanson, APR, Fellow PRSA Reply

    I have a former college roommate who lives in Anchorage. He speaks so highly of the city. Now I know I need to visit the great white north!

    • david Reply

      . . .and when you do, Scott, the Landis red carpet will be rolled out for you! Whether you like it or not, you’ll have an instant family: Uncle Paul, Aunt Joan, Sister Kate and Brother-in-law Lenny (along with nephews Ben & Nick who sometimes are studying in Flagstaff!)

  7. Chris Jacobson Reply

    Great article. I am the the sole web developer of Beanscafe.org. I found this article from the refer link to beans cafe while doing some stats tracking. It almost brings tears to my eyes to hear such a heart warming story of how Beans cafe changed the life of another person. Its 8 degrees with a windchill of negative 30; a hard day to be homeless in Anchorage. Thanks for the comments about beans cafe. I took that photo above of the coffee beans. If anyone wants to order a 1lb bag you can from here: Beans Cafe Blend

    • david Reply

      Chris – so nice to meet you, not sure that we met in person when I was up there. I’d like to second that. With the holidays right around the corner, a gift from Beans Cafe (or even a donation to Beans Cafe) is the perfect gift.
      http://www.beanscafe.org – thanks, Chris, for all the good work you and the rest of the Bean’s team does day in and day out.

  8. jane Reply

    Hi, David-I share your love of Anchorage, but in the summer :). Your blog is very moving-we often forget how hard it is for homeless people in general. To be homeless in Alaska is truly challenging.

    Best regards,
    Jane

    • david Reply

      Agreed. And I’m glad there are companies like Benjamin Moore – and individuals such as yourself – out there helping. Thanks for posting. Cheers, David

  9. Claudia Juestel Reply

    What a wonderful project David! Thank you for sharing your amazing experience in Anchorage. I would love to get involved in Benjamin Moore’s project locally, and I know I can get some other designers on board.

    Cheers,

    Claudia

    • david Reply

      Wow, what a great offer, Claudia. Although I think they’re wrapping up the program. . .they’ve already done it in 50 cities in 50 days! But tell all your clients to always support Benjamin Moore – not only do we love their paints, we love the way they do business! Cheers, David

  10. Sandra Farish Sloan Reply

    What a fantastic project and story! Once again, David, you’ve impressed me with your continued willingness and ability to give back to your vast community!
    Well done!
    Sandra

    • david Reply

      Thanks, Sandra. And I know you do the same and have done so for years. Cheers, David

  11. david Reply

    Here’s a comment from my Aunt Joan – one of the Anchorage Landises:

    The refurbishing of Bean’s Café came just in time. The temp at the moment is 11 but the harrowing winds have brought the chill factor down to minus 40. And if you thing it was difficult to get a cab when you were here, now it would be impossible.

    Beans is overwhelmed with the need to provide shelter for the overflow from the Brother Francis Shelter as well as put out all those meals. Benjamin Moore provided a great service.

    –Joan Landis