We are reminded daily that the world can be a dangerous and ugly place, but at The Salvation Army, we believe that there is more good in this world than bad, more kindness than cruelty, and more hope than despair. Together with the Department of Public Words, we’re working to spread this loving and hopeful message to those who are suffering or lost in our community.
Thanks to a grant from an anonymous angel donor, the Department of Public Words was able to design and fabricate three large murals to adorn the walls of The Salvation Army’s Harbor Light Center, Ruth Lilly Women & Children’s Center, and Fountain Square Corps Community Center. Each reads, “YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL,” the letters filled with the images of men, women and children from Indiana and around the world holding up smaller “You Are Beautiful” placards. These smiling faces now greet visitors, clients, and residents, reminding each that they are truly beautiful both inside and out.
The largest mural, which stretches more than 40 feet down a hallway in the Harbor Light Center, smiles upon clients as they enter and exit classrooms where they are learning how to live free of the bonds of addiction. For these men and women, the positive message could not come at a more needed time.
“The mural was a breath of fresh air in our center,” says Lt. Karen Pommier, Corps Officer at the Harbor Light Center. “People stop and look at the faces, and it takes them a little time to read the phrase ‘You Are Beautiful.’ This process allows the message to sink in. Then they leave with a smile.”
Holly and Dave Combs, co-founders of the Department of Public Words, had toured each Salvation Army building before coming up with a vision for the three murals. As they learned more about the mission of The Salvation Army and the daily struggles people in the these Indianapolis facilities were facing, the message became clear.
The You Are Beautiful movement started in Chicago in 2002 as a way to “brighten someone’s day, a way to pat a stranger on the back, a way to remind ourselves that even when things aren’t going great, it’s ok.” Since 2007, the Department of Public Words has created a number of large-scale You Are Beautiful murals, including the iconic installation that currently towers over the Fountain Square neighborhood on the facade of the Murphy Art Center.
When the Department of Public Words sent out an online request for volunteers to take You Are Beautiful “selfies” for the new Salvation Army murals, the response was amazing. “There are hundreds of images of people from all over the world who wanted to encourage the people that come to these centers,” explains Holly. “Our goal with this project is to bring smiles to people’s faces.”
Smiles are exactly what are needed at The Salvation Army Ruth Lilly Women & Children’s Center, where every year more than 2,300 women and young children find shelter from homelessness or domestic violence situations. The daily struggles they face can be overwhelming, but the new mural leading to the dormitories now reminds them every day that they are worthy of being loved.
Shelter director Pam Fleck has already seen the impact this simple message of caring has had on her residents. “The women and children just love to look at all their faces and see their smiles,” she shared with Holly and her team at Department of Public Words. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
The last mural to be installed fills a once-blank lobby wall at The Salvation Army Fountain Square Corps Community Center with radiant smiles. Lieutenants Brandon and Megan Lewis were on hand to help out as each letter of YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL was hung in place. They were excited to share the new message with their congregation and program participants, including dozens of children spending the summer at the corps’ day camp. (A time lapse video of the mural installation is posted on the Department of Public Words Facebook page here.)
“We’re so excited to have this up on our wall for many years to come,” says Lt. Brandon. He’s encouraging others to visit the corps, located at 1337 Shelby Street in the heart of Fountain Square, and take selfies with the You Are Beautiful placard to share with others in need of cheer and support.
“We hope that these will bring encouragement and joy to all the people that visit these incredible centers,” Holly shared in a Facebook Live video broadcast on installation day in May. “We really love The Salvation Army and we hope that you support them and all the great work that they do.”