#AdAstraStrong Star Stories: Jen Goetz

“Ad astra per aspera” is the state motto of Kansas, which translates to “to the stars through difficulties” – a sentiment that has never felt more true than it does today. It emphasizes our values and optimism that, even when faced with the most difficult hardships, we come together as a state and keep our sights set on what’s important. We launched our #AdAstraStrong campaign to highlight “stars” throughout Kansas who are going above and beyond to give back to their community and provide hope during these challenging times. Stay tuned for more star stories and stay #AdAstraStrong.

Our first star, Jen Goetz, is an artist in Topeka, Kansas. She describes herself as an art nerd, mother, advocate and community leader. Soon after COVID-19 impacted workers in Kansas, Jen put her artistic talents to work creating T-shirts that would eventually support Kansans who had lost their jobs.

Tell us how you came up with the idea for the Ad Astra Per Aspera shirts you created?

The gist of the Ad Astra shirts is this: I love doing design, photography, writing and social media strategy… ALL the stuff I do. But at my core, I’m an artist. So, when feelings get overwhelming, or I need an outlet, I make something. I feel my most useful when I have something to do with my hands.

So, when COVID-19 got going and we were basically told, “Grab up your stuff and go be safe,” it was discombobulating. So many new changes. So much adaptation. It was and is exhausting.

One Wednesday evening (this matters in a second), early on during work from home (WFH), I was wound up from trying to adapt, change, and be productive all day. Nothing felt good enough or focused enough. So, I sat down at my computer and scrolled through the news and saw someone talking about Kansans and how we know how to get through hard things.

Our state motto popped into my head and I thought, “Man…that’s what we’re ALL going through. We just want to get back to the stars in all this mess.” And in that flash, I knew what to do with my hands. I knew what to make. I didn’t know WHAT it would look like, just that I had a starting point. I worked fonts and ideas…then landed on a rough look and feel and then crashed that night. That next day was another weird day of adaptation but we made it through and when the workday ended, I opened my file again and made a few more tweaks. I felt good about it and decided to call it done.

How did your artwork and the T-shirts go viral?

Now, I’ve done this kind of thing before when it comes to sharing art. When there’s a universal feeling in the air and people need to put words to their worry, I get busy. So, before I closed up for the night, I released the art as a Facebook header out into the wild. This means I sent it out into the world about 6:30 p.m. on a Thursday night. All my social media training told me, “This is a garbage time to send this out. No one will see it,” but selfishly, it was an emotional release to share it and identify with others in the, “I’m worried too,” ballpark.

Whenever I upload art like this, I tell people to steal it. I give them permission to not only take the art, but in reality, identify with how they’re feeling. By the time I checked the art about 30 minutes later, it was flying. It was in Kansas City and Lawrence within minutes and soon I was interacting with Kansans well out of the state lines asking if they could have it, too. Within the hour, one person asked if it could be a T-shirt. Two hours later, a couple dozen requests for a T-shirt had been made.

As I’ve done something similarly before, I reached out to my friend Travis who runs Tradepost Tees (and Tradepost Entertainment) and asked if he had the bandwidth to do a shirt run. He’d just lost a bunch of work due to school closings and was glad for a gig to keep his team busy. I like supporting local, small businesses whenever possible, so I sent him the art and he developed the landing page for everything. He had the stock and quietly let me know it was ready.

How did you decide where the funds from T-shirt sales would go?

When I queued up the post, it hit me exactly who the proceeds should go to. I’m lucky. My employer was able to keep me on, keep me busy, and keep me working. Not everyone is that lucky and I was watching panic rippling through the community as bar after bar and restaurant after restaurant had to limit staff, shut their doors and (understandably) lay off their employees. I’m friends with many of those folks, and I couldn’t fathom that terror. I appreciate what they do so much, I’ve been in their shoes, and they’re staring down a very non-grounded existence. They’d developed a virtual tip jar for themselves and so I snapped up the names and payment options into an Excel sheet and hoped that this just might very well work. It did. It still does.

How much have you raised through T-shirt sales?

To date, the shirts have raised $1,400. My “cut” is 10% and Tradepost quickly and graciously matched that. The money we have raised has gone to help nearly 70 people at $20 a piece. I’ve had several replies from people saying, “I can go get groceries now,” or “I can go get my meds. Thank you.” I cry every time I send money. 

How far do you think these shirts and your artwork have traveled?

Several politicians in Kansas have them, and I know the shirts have traveled coast to coast, domestically, and at least one is headed to Italy. I’ve been interviewed by the news, I get tagged on Facebook daily, and multiple companies and clubs are using it. But to be honest, I have absolutely lost track of how far this has gone. I just know it’s far.

The people that could, did, and still do donate – I am so grateful for what they’ve given. They get to wear the softest shirt ever, and inadvertently, I realize I gave everyone something to do with their hands. They can buy and wear a T-shirt and know they helped someone with it.

Let alone the money they’ve trusted me to give away, I’ll never be able to thank the community enough, Tradepost enough, or my family enough for what they’ve bolstered in my own mental health about the truly good nature of humans. People want to help, and they need to help – they just need a functional place to direct it.

You can follow Jen on Instagram to learn more about her artwork and inspiring story.

If you know a Kansas “star” who is shining bright and helping others during the COVID-19 outbreak, nominate them on Facebook by sharing a brief description of their story with the #AdAstraStrong hashtag or email us at social@bcbsks.com. We can’t wait to tell more stories about the inspiring people who are embodying the strength and resiliency of Kansas right now.

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