Dec '09 Jan '10

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Hartman House is a non-profit charitable organization founded by my wife, Julieann, and myself in 2005. We had a desire to help people who couldn't, or had a difficult time, helping themselves; to give something back. I know that may sound like an overused expression, but that's about it.

I've been having some great success in the animation field for quite sometime and, after a while, my wife and I decided that
it was time to start sharing the wealth. We had already helped several people in our family with needs that they had and we figured, "Hey, why not start helping total strangers? They can't be any weirder than our family members, right? And the strangers have never even left us with any emotional scars!" (Kidding, of course.)

At left, Julianne and Butch Hartman, co-founders of The Hartman House. At right, The House, Guatemala 2008. Photo by Shannon Hart.

But the initial idea started at our church when we met a woman who had a great need. It all kind of snowballed from there. Her name is Eleanor Workman. She's a 91 year-old missionary from the U.S. who runs two orphanages in the country of Haiti. She had spoken at our church about her situation and how she was having a challenge getting some supplies to her orphanage.
Apparently a bunch of items had been shipped from the U.S. to her orphanage. They were shipped in five large cargo containers and were being held at customs in Haiti until she could give the Haitian officials a very large sum of cash. And the worst part was, they had been held for two years! Yes, two years. The kids at the orphanage had aged two years while all the stuff from the U.S. sat there in customs, waiting. My wife and I paid the fee and the containers were released. It felt so good to help that we realized then and there we had to keep doing this. So the idea for our own charitable organization started from that point. That was in 2005.

We sort of just went for it because we didn't really know exactly what was involved. That was a good thing. If we'd seen the amount of detail involved to get this off the ground we probably would have been more hesitant. Fortunately I think God just revealed it to us one piece at a time so we wouldn't get scared off!

Photos from a Hartman House visit to Guatemala by Shannon Hart.

When you first start something like this your dream is to be as big as the Red Cross or something like that, but when you realize exactly how much is involved, you really have to start budgeting your time accordingly.  Finding others willing to donate their time to help you is difficult. too.

The "creation" part is probably the most time-consuming. It has to be done all legal-like. There are special attorneys who help set up these kinds of things so we went through one of those. The reason being, whenever you're asking people for money for a charity, it has to be deemed an actual charity. This is done so you won't just be taking money from people under the guise of "helping others". The government watches this stuff very, very closely. We even have to have board members and official "game plan" meetings once a month. The name Hartman House is sort of based on Ronald McDonald House. I always liked that name - and hamburgers - so that's what we ended up going with.

So far, we've donated money to an orphanage in Haiti so they could get a new water system and get some shipping containers out of customs. We did a complete home makeover on a home in South Central Los Angeles - new paint, appliances, tile, bathroom fixtures, etc. We built a wheelchair ramp for another home in South Central as well. We help support The Angola Girls Project in Africa; a shelter that takes in young girls after they've been sold into sex slavery at a very young age. We support The Dream Center in Los Angeles; a church that takes homeless people, drug-addicts and prostitutes off the streets and helps them remake their lives. We donated a radio antenna to a church in Uganda, Africa so they could broadcast their show. We put a young girl in South Central L.A. through four years of private school -  our first Hartman House Scholarship. We have built two homes in Guatemala for two families who were living in extreme poverty. And, of course, there's our annual Thanksgiving Harvest in Texas. We're giving out 1,000 turkeys this year plus all the fixings!

Usually, not many of the people we help know about "Fairly Oddparents".  If they find out it's certainly cool, but most of our stuff has been done in foreign countries with extreme poverty so these folks don't even have TV's. Although, ironically, they've all heard of Spongebob.

Guatemala, 2008. At right, Butch draws for the kids - cartoons are universal. Photo by Shannon Hart.

We'd love to be the next Red Cross some day, but we know it will take a lot of work. When we have projects to do, it takes just as much time as a full-time job. In-between projects we're busy planning for the next project. The most difficult part of the entire process is raising money.

I definitely seek support from peers - anyone who can donate time or funding - and Nickelodeon has been involved a few times for sure. They even let me use the studio to hold our very first ever fund-raiser.

If you're reading this and would like to participate, the quickest way is to donate!  Other than that we always need "people on the ground" to do the hands-on work. The challenge with that is that a great many people always say they want to help but then when it comes to actually show up for the job they're nowhere to be found. You'd be surprised how much this happens. Fortunately there are always the wonderful people who actually show up to help that redeem your belief in the goodness of people.


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