Small Acts of Kindness





By Andrew Feight, Ph.D.


Hindsight is, as they say, twenty-twenty.  Looking back we can see the impact of smaller events on the larger course of history.  We see this in our own lives as we grow older and wiser, but we also see this in the history of our communities and institutions.  Today, we can survey the past and see how a a certain turn of events, such as a small act of kindness, can take on, over time, a significance few if any could have imagined at an earlier time.  Such is the case with the early history of the Foundation for Hospital Art.


Aesop, in his memorable fable about the lion and the mouse, concluded that “No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.”  You see, what had happened was… a little mouse had found herself caught in the paws of a lion.  The mighty feline, in what might be described as a random act of kindness, decided not to eat the little rodent as a dainty mid-afternoon snack.  Instead, he released the mouse, who promptly scurried back to the safety of her home.


Later, when the lion had been caught in the ropes of a hunter’s trap, his roar of anger and distress reached the ears of our mouse, who promptly remembered the kind favor she had received from the lion.  Without hesitation, she hurried to the scene and before the hunter could claim his catch, she chewed through the netting, freeing the lion and returning the lion’s earlier favor with her own small act of kindness.


As told by Aesop, the size of the lion’s act of kindness appears to be commensurate with the physical size of the mouse.  It was, at the time, but a small act of kindness.  For one who is accustomed to devouring much larger animals, the decision to spare the life of a rodent surely seemed inconsequential for the lion.  For the mouse, however, this was a show of compassion and kindness that would never be forgotten.  In Aesop’s telling, the lion’s act of kindness would come back to him in an unexpectedly big way.  By saving the life of the mouse, the lion had ultimately saved his own life.  Small acts of kindness, Aesop assures us, reverberate through our lives, through our communities, and come back to us in ways we cannot possibly predict.  Who knows, your small act of compassion or charity today may, one day, end up saving your life.


If you speak with John Feight, my father and the founder of the Foundation for Hospital Art, and ask him about the earliest small acts of kindness that had the greatest impact on the success of the foundation, he will give you a list of gifts received that range from a cancer patient’s smile at Northside Hospital in Atlanta to the one dollar donation made by another hospital patient in Los Angeles, and, then he’ll mention the original $10,000 grant from the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation.  Yes, in my father’s book, acts of kindness have a relative quality.  A smile, a one dollar bill, and a $10,000 check can all be seen as both relatively small things in the scheme of things.  Yet, in time, and in retrospect, these are the gifts that made the largest impact.


In 1984, as the Foundation for Hospital Art began its mission, the Woodruff Foundation provided, what farmers (and venture capitalists) call, “seed money.”  The grant was to help the Foundation for Hospital Art get off the ground, it was to help them launch the mission.  For the Woodruff Foundation, whose assets today are worth around $2.7 billion and which annually gives away over $100 million in grants, the $10,000 grant to the Foundation for Hospital Art can certainly appear small, for it was a small grant.


Now, twenty-eight years later, with the Foundation’s art work hanging in nearly every nation on earth and with over 40,000 thousand murals completed in hospitals, nursing homes, and rehabilitation centers, one can easily conclude that the Woodruff Foundation’s small act of kindness has proven a great investment of a tiny sliver of the former Coca Cola executive’s massive fortune.


If Robert W. Woodruff were alive today, I believe, he would take much satisfaction and derive some sense of meaning in his life if he were to learn how his philanthropy helped forward the work the Foundation for Hospital Art.  But, the way my father tells it, the smile of a patient, whose suffering had been momentarily forgotten through art, actually made as much of a difference in the early success of the foundation as did the Woodruff grant.  The smile gave meaning to my father’s work and confirmed what he himself was discovering:  painting art in hospitals, by brightening the walls and engaging the creativity of patients, can help alleviate the pain and suffering of our brothers and sisters, our mothers and fathers, our neighbors and friends.  And when the Foundation received its first un-solicited donation from an un-known donor in California, my father found as much hope in this unexpected, small act of kindness, as he did in the Woodruff grant.


Hope, it turns out, is no small gift.  Evidence of growing support for the Foundation’s mission, whether in the form of one dollar or ten thousand dollars, provided hope. Hope fuels our dreams, dreams for a better society, dreams of an end of suffering.  The early history of the Foundation for Hospital Art illustrates the truth of Aesop’s fable:  “No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.” We see that small acts of kindness can take many forms, and it makes no difference whether we are on the giving or receiving end, such acts always inspire hope and bring meaning to our lives.

Jill and Mary Bryce Pring — Our 2012 Mary Jane and George Banta Volunteers Of The Year.











Once a year, the Foundation for Hospital Art recognizes a committed volunteer to the cause.  It is normally given to the person that makes the most significant impact, through volunteering their time and talent, to the FFHA.


The award was first given in 1995 and was named after two of the most devoted volunteers ever:  Mary Jane and George Banta.  They helped on many of the first wall murals at Northside Hospital, while Bruce, their son, was undergoing cancer treatment.  A bond was formed during the early days and they continued to volunteer for many years.


For 2012, we have the distinct honor of recognizing two people instead of just one.  The mother-daughter tandem of Jill and Mary Bryce Pring has been an unstoppable force for good over the past twelve months.  Both have been fully committed since traveling to help with a PaintFest in Poland two years ago.


One trait of a great volunteer is consistency.  In a world of competing demands, the singular focus of an individual to stay true to their personal commitment to volunteerism is noteworthy.  For the past year, Jill and Mary Bryce have come every week to volunteer in our studio or at a PaintFest.  Their passion to serve has enabled us to send out numerous paintings to hospitals all around the world.


Additionally, Mary Bryce has been instrumental in recruiting other student volunteers from her high school.  She was also selected as one of the recipients of the 2012 John Feight Hospital Art Internship Award.  She dedicated this summer to serve as a volunteer every day.  Her contributions truly made a difference.


Great volunteers are like great hugs….when you get one, they make everyone feel a little bit better.  Join us as we celebrate Jill and Mary Bryce Pring as our 2012 Mary Jane and George Banta Volunteers of the Year!

Painting Under African Skies, Quick Fresh Tomato Sauce





Posted by Maili Halme Brocke


The thing to do on a vacation is to eat everything in site.  And that is exactly what I did the minute I got on the airplane.  There were some who complained about enduring the long 15 hour flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg, but for me I had unlimited movies on the little screen in front of my seat, a good book, my journal, food, beverages and bathrooms.  I had no one to take care of but myself so I settled in to a trip of complete contentment.  The JOY of the trip actually began at 4:00 a.m on the Thursday morning that I left California.  My sister so kindly offered to drive me to LAX where I would take the flight to Atlanta to join up with the rest of our group.


While my sister and I live only a few miles apart and our children are in the same schools, our lives are very full and very busy and it is rare that the two of us are alone, uninterrupted for two hours.  The additional blessing about a 5:00 am drive is that we weren’t even interrupted by texts or phone calls or the needs of anyone else.  We talked about so many things but kept focusing on gratitude.  We talked about the challenges that pop up sometimes daily and or weekly.  My sister and I both have what some would call an insane dose of optimism.  It seems like whatever comes up we’re definitely going to find the bright side.  And I think we both sincerely believe that this optimism combined with gratitude somehow creates all these unexpected JOYS that show up when we least expect it.  We arrived so early because there wasn’t any traffic that we had time to stop for breakfast.  Extra time to eat equals more gratitude and joy for me.  As we were eating our breakfast we glanced across the restaurant and there was was an elderly Japanese couple bowing their heads at the table saying Grace.  Their gratitude for their simple breakfast was a gift that overflowed to us.  A gift that was exactly in line with all we had discussed in the car.  The great importance for saying thank you for the daily little things in life like breakfast.


So it was with this heart of gratitude that I began my trip.


On the little movie screen in front of my seat there is a flight tracker that maps your trip as you fly.  Most of the time whenever I checked on it, I was somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean.  I can’t begin to tell you how thrilled I was when I saw the plane was nearing the border of Africa.  I think up until that point I may not have really believed it was actually going to happen, that I was going to Africa.  Just the word Africa seems so grand and majestic.  It roles off your tongue like beautiful music.  We landed together at the Johannesburg airport, were welcomed through customs, exchanged our dollars for rand and went to the hotel.


South African cuisine is a melting pot of colonialists and indigenous people.  So the traditional maize (similar to polenta or grits–a favorite of mine) is often served with some kind of meat and gravy.  The main outside food influences are Dutch, German, British, French and Indonesian.  The Afrikaners (of British decent) broth their servants who were often so-called Cape Malay people who have an Indonesian style of cooking.  To the north was Portuguese Mozambique so there was also a trickle down of Portuguese inspired cuisine (such a Piri-Piri Chicken that Greg Kehler said was fabulous and I was sad I hadn’t noticed on the menu.)  For me it meant that I had a tea kettle in my hotel room instead of a coffee pot and for those of you how know how much I love tea, I was already happy from this tiny fact.  Then because of the the German influence there were sausages everywhere with many meals.  The famous one of called Boerwors.  The first morning I had breakfast they had three kinds of sausages:  lamb, beef and pork.  I tried all three.  Then lots of fruit that I throughly enjoyed and the creamiest avocados.  The most exotic thing I ate was Impala and Wild Boar.  In the gas station they had version of Cornish Pasties, often six to 12 different kinds.  Shockingly the pastry crust was quite good for a gas station.  And then they had all the British wine gums and jellies that I also adore.  They also had great cheese courses including the cheese I loved from Belgium (that I’m assuming must actually be Dutch.)


(I should note here that this wasn’t a food trip for me.  I just happen to turn everything into a food trip.  If you are going for the food my friend, Stephen Janes, imports wine from South Africa and he told me about two amazing chefs: Peter Tempelhoff and Luke Dale Roberts For all of my foodie friends on this blog and email list you will enjoy clicking on their web sites, reading their impressive resumes and seeing their gorgeous food. And I certainly hope I will be going back to South Africa sooner than later to try it.)


So if I wasn’t there for the food then why was I there.  It is hard to put into words.  I was there because one of my oldest and dearest friends had invited me there.  I was there to help, but in truth they were helping me.  They were helping me step into this new chapter of my life.  But I was taking that step with long-time friends and new dear people.


Anyone who is involved with the Foundation for Hospital Art is basically a happy person.  Because it is a foundation that basically spreads happiness.  There are only 3 paid employees in the FFHA and the rest of is made up of 500,000 volunteers around the world.  They have painted in Sibera and Argentina, in Paris and Korea.  One of the board members is from the town that was hit by the Tsumani in Japan and she led the group to a Paintfest in Japan.  This year high school students are raising money for their trip to Uruguay to paint in a hospital there.  Cuba, Poland, Austria and Hungary are also on the list for the coming year.  The Foundation has donated over 36,000 paintings in hospitals and nursing homes in 194 countries and all 50 states.  The found, John Feight, had a dream that is now 29 years old and has comforted patients all over the world.


Hospitals in general are sterile places with blank white walls.  Most certainly poorer hospitals and nursing homes have no budget for art and no real thought about a need for it.  Surprisingly both the wealthier hospitals and the poorer hospitals lack art.


Why does art matter.  Certainly food, clothing, and shelter seem more important that art.  But here is the secret:  while those basic necessities do matter, Art is healing.  Art gives people hope and comfort.  It gives JOY.  People need things that fill their soul and give them a purpose.   The foundation is more than just donating paintings.  People, both patients and volunteers, actually get to paint.


There are some things that are hard to get until you actually do them.  It is hard to describe the feeling of being part of a Paintfest but once you do it you understand.  For me, I’m a chef.  I may be very artistic with food but I’m insecure and terrible with a paintbrush.  It just isn’t my comfort zone.  But the paintings are designed in a unique way so that everyone can paint.  And I can have the soothing feeling that comes from dipping the paintbrush in paint and painting back and forth on the canvas.  Suddenly, EVERYONE can paint.  Everyone from the most severely wounded soldier who can only paint with his mouth to the child undergoing chemotherapy to the elderly patient that must move around with an oxygen tank.  The foundation created canvases that everyone can help paint.  Then the giant tiles combine together to make bright and colorful paintings that are either ceiling tiles for patients who are confined to beds or placed on walls for patients in waiting rooms waiting to undergo tests or treatments.  The paintings are a way to let their mind focus on something happy instead of staring at blank wall.


Roc Baker, one of the foundation’s Board members is from Ohio.  He said his favorite part of a Paintfest is the conversations that happen while everyone works and paints together.  Conversations that wouldn’t happen any other way.


There are a hundred ways I could have written about this trip to South Africa.  The trip was so massive and had so many components.  I could write about the cows that were all over the place roaming free on the sides of the roads.  Visiting Nelson Mandela’s family home in Soweto and being surprised that he lived on the same street as Desmond Tuto.  I could write about the Platinium mines and diamond mines and coal mines.  I could write about all the beautiful farms and the Mango Plantation.  I could write about the fact that I have a deep appreciation for clean running water, indoor plumbing and electricity.  I could write about the people I met and the great discussions I had no matter who I was sitting by during our group meals.  The books that were recommended the topics discussed.  The fact that many on the board are also active in food banks both locally and worldwide.  I could write about the youth pastor who raises money for wells.  I could write about the diplomats wife and daughter that I sat next to on the airplane.  For those who see my daily facebook posts of pictures and quotes on JOY you can imagine my surprise when the pastor were we painted and provided the meal for the congregation had a daughter named Lethabo.  And that Lethabo means JOY.


The safari camp I stayed in was called Chisomo.  I found out that Chisomo means Blessing.  And this trip was a Blessing.  I’m grateful my parents could watch my girls so I could experience it.  I’m grateful for the wonderful new people I met and for the old friends I could spend time with.  I’m grateful I get to be a part of something that makes others happy.


Blessings to all.  Maili

PaintFest® – The Perfect Teambuilding Event





Posted by Scott Feight


From a meeting planner’s perspective, the challenge is daunting:  find the perfect teambuilding project that will appeal to your entire audience.  Clients are demanding and want something fresh, something impactful, and something that accomplishes a myriad of requirements.


A Foundation for Hospital Art PaintFest® event is typically a two-hour group collaboration to complete six-panel pieces of artwork that are donated to brighten a healthcare facility.  Teams, up to 12 members per team, partner together to create a beautiful and colorful mural-like painting that will uplift the spirits of thousands of patients, families, and medical staffs.


Meeting planners love checklists.  Here is quick rundown, in checklist format, citing the aspects of a PaintFest.



– teams bond and build relationships for approximately two hours – check



– the paintings are finished within the time period – check



– 6,000 people visit the average hospital daily; color in a dark place – check



– anyone can do it – men, women, & children; no physical limitations – check



– painting is relaxing after a long day of stressful meetings – check



– the average per person expense is flexible and reasonable – check



– the event can be indoors, outdoors; literally anywhere – check



– the PaintFest comes to you; buses to offsite locations are not necessary – check



– wrap food and beverage around a PaintFest; great pre- or post- meal – check



– the sponsor is recognized on every painting that is donated – check



– any hour of the day – from morning to evening – check



– FFHA staff can handle the setup, execution and cleanup – check



– the art can be donated to local hospitals, clinics, nursing homes & schools – check


The best question to ask your audience at the end is whether or not they would want to do it again.  Every PaintFest always culminates in a resounding “yes”.  The participants have a “pride of ownership” in knowing that their hands will make a lasting difference in the lives of hospital patients around the world and in their local community.


See you at the next PaintFest with a paintbrush in your hand!


Scott Feight

Executive Director

Foundation for Hospital Art

How does art impact patients in hospitals?












Posted by John Feight


She said she wanted to fly…she wanted to be free.


Because her bone cancer had progressed unchecked, Beverley was restricted to a bed in Room 221 on the second floor at Northside Hospital in Atlanta.  Her world had become 2 North, the cancer floor.


CBS Morning News was there to produce a segment on how art impacts patients in hospitals.


Multiple ceiling tiles had been painted with the famous Jonathan Livingston Seagull soaring above Beverley’s bed…she had a front row seat to freedom…and she took it.


The CBS reporter asked Beverley how a cancer patient, facing death, could possibly find freedom in such a situation.


Beverley answered by saying “you can’t think of two things at the same time”.   Her beautiful smile made you believe.


She…her mind…was focused on that bird…that bird that had been created with color and form…a shape that suggested a bird in flight…it was a bird…it was Jonathan…flying without limits to his dreams.  Beverley had dreams and she wanted to live them…even from her bed…Beverley wanted to fly.


Beverley helped to put the painting together…over her head.  The tiles were like a puzzle to her…she enjoyed telling me how to position them …directing me on how each piece fit into a pattern…a pattern of hope and joy.  She enjoyed the game. She was  not thinking about her cancer.


The painted tiles transformed the blank ceiling into a bright blue sky with Jonathan soaring…reaching…searching…dreaming.  Beverley wanted to fly…to dream…to be free.


That thought lifted Beverley up out of that bed and for moments beyond the reality of her cancer and that bed…she flew into another dimension…beyond pain…beyond the limits of a one-dimensional thought.  She wanted out of that bed.


Beverley was not alone on that floor.  Margo was just down the hall in Room 216.  Margo had written a poem in reaction to a mural painted on her wall.  The poem speaks for itself…and for Margo.


On a Mural


A mural on the wall

No fantasy, no dream.

An all so vivid picture

Of a restful, rural scene.


A lake reflecting God’s wonders,

Tall trees, branches lifted high.

Mountains echoing his thunders,

The sun to light the sky.


So restful, so serene,

The lake, the trees, the sky.

Can God plan less a peace

When our turn comes to die?


It’s not for us to fathom

What future God has planned.

The answer to our prayers

Is wholly in his hand.


Beverley and Margo had let the artwork take them on a journey…a journey beyond paint, beyond the hospital…beyond cancer.


Positive or Negative Thoughts


Both Beverley and Margo knew they couldn’t think of two things at once.  They understood they could either think positively or negatively…the choice was theirs…is ours.  They chose the positive path to freedom.  While their bodies were trapped in those beds, their minds were free to fly.


They flew like eagles…they flew like Jonathan Livingston Seagull …without limits.


An image with color…an impression that they completed in their heads made all the difference.  They were not trapped in those beds.  They were not limited because of their cancer.  They could fly.


More than art…a chance to fly.