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How ‘Make A Tee’ and ‘Make Our Schools Safe’ Use T-shirts to Create Positive Impact

How ‘Make A Tee’ and ‘Make Our Schools Safe’ Use T-shirts to Create Positive Impact

When you wear your favorite T-shirt, it feels good. You remember when and where it came from. It might be printed with an image that wraps around you like a superhero cape. And what is on the front—says something about what you stand for—what you believe in.

Every member on the Board of Decorators recognizes the strength that lives in the blank canvas of a simple T-shirt. We share a common belief in using creative leadership to build stronger communities. Our core values impact everything we do— we always ask, “How can we do more and how can we continuously do better?”

When individuals come together, possibilities to create powerful initiatives are endless. As a way to amplify the Board of Decorators social-entrepreneurial efforts outside the virtual boardroom, the board is supporting each member with a fundraising effort for their local community. 10 Board of Decorator members. 10,000 donated shirts.100,000+ wearings.

It starts with a simple idea—share it, print it, wear it. All over the United States, from Nebraska to Washington state, each of the ten board members chooses a local organization they want to champion. Our members share their print creativity across the front of 1,000 shirts. Each organization then shares those shirts with 1,000 folks in their community. Each person has the opportunity to wear a T-shirt designed, decorated, and printed with careful intention, artistry, and a commitment to empowering others to achieve their best.

Meryl Katlin, board member, founder, and “boss lady” of Make A Tee, headquartered near Parkland, Florida, has built a business that celebrates the power of collaboration and creativity. Sharing her expertise and working with many non-profits during her extensive print and graphic design career has been a key part of Make A Tee, “I love helping people and I love doing a business that’s also a service” says Meryl.

Wanting to connect with an organization in her community—Meryl began collaborating three years ago with Lori and Ilan Aldaheff, the founders of Make Our Schools Safe.  After losing their bright and energetic 14-year-old daughter, Alyssa, in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High school shooting on February 14, 2018, the Aldaheffs created the foundation—dedicated to designing stronger, better, and smarter school safety practices, so no other parent has to endure the pain they live with.

After the shooting, wanting to honor each of the 17 people who lost their lives in the Parkland tragedy, Meryl created a memorial space in the Make A Tee store. “People from the community were coming in every day looking for something that would show their support and care for the families. It was very difficult for me to make even a penny on someone's loss. We took in the money and told everyone we would donate the money to one of the families.”

The spark for collaboration between Make A Tee and Make Our Schools Safe happened during a chance encounter near a polling place later that year. Meryl describes how Lori Aldaheff, running for the School Board, was handing out cards to people on their way vote, “I was just drawn to go over—I had no idea what I would say to this woman who lost her beloved daughter in the shooting that crushed our community. I looked at her and said, ‘Can I just give you a hug?’” A few months later, in December, a more formal meeting took place at the Make A Tee shop and a dynamic partnership was born.

Since 2018, Make A Tee and Make Our Schools Safe have partnered on a wide range of different fundraising initiatives, connecting people with purpose. As a Board of Decorators member, Meryl knew she wanted to combine her commitment to Make Our Schools Safe’s 2021 fundraising events with the BOD fundraising effort in some way. “I love working with people that can appreciate my desire to make a difference,” says Meryl, “Having the support of the Board of Decorators via apparel and exposure is GOLDEN.” Lori Alhadeff adds, “Their understanding of Make Our Schools Safe’s mission and goals and their dedication to being a partner, is powerful in helping outreach.”

Building shared strength between businesses, organizations, and individuals can take place on the blank canvas of a simple T-shirt—even in pandemic-isolating times that test us. Meryl created a sense of togetherness while operating her print design business in accordance with state-mandated stay-at-home orders. “Our annual Kids T-Shirt design contest had to be cancelled—but I posted tons of fun drawings for parents to download and the kids to color. They sent their designs in and we printed them for free!! Then we had the kids come in, one by one, to pick up their trophies and T-shirts,” shares Meryl.

Make A Tee has always seen each and every customer, no matter how small, as a constant source of inspiration. With stores closed, making a personal impact necessitated a new way of doing business. The shutdown provided a time for Meryl to step back and reassess. “I was very determined to not have this pandemic destroy all the years I put into the business. I tried to look at the slow-down time as a positive.” Soon, business development ideas rooted in the spirit of collaboration were sparking new enterprise. From developing an Artist Alley, adding Lifestyle Brands, and creating an Apparel Mastermind program designed to help affiliate store owners learn about marketing, Meryl and her team have helped countless micro-businesses not only make money, but have shown them how their brand voice and artwork can connect with others. Meryl acknowledges that one of the Make a Tee mantras is, “Create Every Day.”

Meryl continues to build a sense of togetherness and meaningful community whether doing business or doing good. Her long partnership with Make Our Schools Safe continues her company’s ethos about how inspiration needs to be shared. Lori Aldaheff tells the story behind one T-shirt fundraising event Make Our Schools Safe called ‘Love Together’ that reveals the power of creative collaboration. “Alyssa, my daughter, had always done the heart-hands pose. One summer, she’d captured the setting sun in her hands. It was a gorgeous photo and inspired the ‘Love Together’ fundraiser.” Make A Tee and Make Our Schools Safe worked with the artist, Jesse Rubin, to transform Alyssa’s photo into a beautiful illustration printed on the T-shirts. Just like Alyssa’s image—hands stretching up in the shape of a heart with the sun streaming through, communities shine brightest when people come together to create positive impact.

Every Board of Decorators member recognizes that a blank T-shirt is full of potential. It’s always waiting to be printed with the right image and the right message to express a powerful sentiment that can drive change. Meryl shared three memorable words to describe how the fundraising effort makes her feel, “I’m not alone.” Together, all the members on the Board of Decorators are rolling up their sleeves, working together, and giving back—building stronger communities 1,000 T-shirts at a time.

Ways to get involved:

#makeourschoolssafe17 #makeourschoolssafe #liveforalyssa #lovetogether