Dallas Graham | Red Fred

10/9/2013 | Amy Tibbals
Stephen Bain

We like to think of Dallas Graham as a percolating fountain of goodness.  This smiling, lanky, stylie, Utah-native keeps adding to his list of talents and selfless deeds. You may know him through Kalari or yoga -- or the graphic design world, or his photography career -- but right now his endless positivity is being channeled into one, all-consuming, all-good vision called The Red Fred Project.

You see, years ago, he dreamt up a pack of bird-characters [called The Jolly Troop] that are really commas in a variety of different fonts. Each has a story, and a personality. Brilliant. Fast forward to now...and Dallas has parlayed these characters into a story-telling mechanism for critically-ill children to tell their stories, and ultimately publish their own books. 50 states, 50 kids, 50 books. Again, brilliant.

Learn more about this incredible, selfless, adorable endeavor at the Red Fred website. And in the mean time, contribute to the project in your own way via their Kickstarter campaign, running through October 13th. Watch the video below, be inspired, and help. You can also see Dallas speaking about The Red Fred Project at Salt Lake Design Week's opening Pecha Kucha night, next Monday the 14th at 7pm. We asked Dallas a few questions, as well. Read up. This is how you do amazing things. This is how you make the world better...

Gold-Line

What is The Red Fred Project all about – and why should people get involved? The Red Fred Project is a star-crossed collaboration between me and 50 children with critical illnesses. I'm creating original, one-of-a-kind children's books with each of them. Each child is the creative boss; I’m just there to bring the story to life through photography, design and a likable group of birds called The Jolly Troop. The books become many magical things: a lasting voice for these children’s beautiful stories; a tangible achievement for each child (we're going to have book-signing events for every one!); a way to help parents pay steep medical bills (the proceeds of each book go straight to them). You see? The magic multiplies, lives on forever—readers are inspired by the wisdom and imagination of these children.

The Red Fred Project wouldn't exist without the characters you originally designed/created from punctuation marks. How did the Jolly Troop come to be? The morning the thought flew into my brain, I wasn't pouring over anything massive or weighty or "trying hard" to make something up. I was looking out my balcony windows at the magnificent Wasatch range and was thinking about  a few things swirling around in my mind: intention, design, photography, creating value, and the union of something simple and smart. I do remember little fat birds hopping around on my balcony and suddenly the flash-thought landed: "I wonder if I can make a bird out of a comma..."

When did the light bulb go off that these adorable critters could help others? The Jolly Troop has been telling stories for years now, in the form of a blog (www.thejollytroop.com/blog). I'd like to think the things we discovered and tried to figure out—there in the blog—were helping others, at some level, for these last few years. But the coming together of the Red Fred Project initially came about in December of 2012 when I heard about a little boy who was suffering from Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The Jolly Troop wanted to help him make a story. They wanted to help him make a book.

You are one of the nicest people I have ever met. Have you always been beaming with positivity? A friend of mine once said, "It's nice to be nice to the nice." (I always chuckle when I say that aloud). I think most of us are trying to be as nice a person as we can be (aren't we?!). If I'm wearing my grumpy pants, it's probably the result of one or more of the following:  (1) I'm not in control of when and where I can leave a situation (2) there is no hummus in my refrigerator (3) my time in the mountains has been significantly delayed or (4) I've realized I have to file for an extension with my taxes—AGAIN! But seriously, there are so many golden things surrounding my life, the least I can do is to be a support to others who are, in there own ways, trying to keep the grumpy pants off.

How has The Red Fred Project changed you? The intention of the project and the impact I know it will have on hundreds of lives is very clear to me. I get it. I see it. I understand it. I hope I don't sound boastful, because that is not the tone I *feel* when I say these things. And as soon as people take a few minutes to really sit across from it, they get it, too. We all want these children to tell their stories because we all understand the BIGGER picture: the child's condition and how they view the world is unique and powerful. And we want to be a little better at doing that. What better way than to learn from a child? You see, by simply knowing about the child, my view of the world begins to change. But the internal fun happens when you multiply that by 50.

This isn't just for kids in Utah, correct? You are traveling across the US to meet these critically ill children and to hear their stories. Correct. The first phase of this project is to complete a book with one child from every state. Once we create that amazing little library, I want creatives from all over the country to become involved. There are so many talented people in creative fields and I get giddy, at times, thinking about what it would look like to have strong, radiant creative professionals giving of themselves to these magical children with critical illnesses. That idea—that image—seems to encapsulate all the good in the world, don't you think?

Tell me about your first “creative” Nathan - and your relationship. Nathan is a remarkable boy. Truly. He's almost 7 and his body has broken over 250 times. In fact, just tonight, his mother said he broke his back today coming home from school. How would you respond to that? What if your bones broke simply by the act of coming home from work, by simple, everyday movement? This boy has felt more physical pain than many of us ever will in our lifetime. He's remarkable because his attitude and determination to be happy seem extraordinarily resolute and real. He's a ham, too. He loves to tell jokes. I hope to continue to share time, stories and memories with him, as long as he and his family will allow me. He's a very significant piece to this project; consequently, he has a very special "Nathan" place in my heart.

What's next for The Red Fred Project? How can people help? We hope to have our Kickstarter campaign funded by 13 October, 6:00p, MST! Please pledge and share with everyone you know! Beyond that, we are going to start visiting our next two creatives in Idaho and California. There's a process I go through with each child, as I learn about them and have them work along side me. And yes, it's work, even though I outweigh them by 150 pounds. Crafting the story is the most enjoyable work in the world. People can help by pledging to the Kickstarter (www.tinyurl.com/redfred); passing the link along to their friends and family, volunteering to help out when we have book-signings or sending us a message of a child in another state they believe would be a wonderful addition to our growing list of creatives.

I’m curious, which Jolly Troop character do you connect with the most and why? I connect with Red Fred's sense of adventure, Black Jack's desire to be daring, Yvette's constant pull to Paris, Stilts' desire to not sweat anything, Algernon's hope for a campout with friends, Penny's BIG plans, Magnus' love for information, and the Twins' desire to question everything.

What about the kids you have met -- is one Jolly Troop member gaining in popularity? Well, everybody loves and knows Red Fred, but if I had to give an "audience love" award to one of them, I'd have to give it to Algernon. What can I say? Just look at him! In fact, there's a saying that floats around in The Jolly Troop, "Everyone loves Algernon" because, well, he is their favorite, too.

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