Martha Randolph Carr Martha Randolph Carr, 10/8/2009 [Archive]

Martha's Big Adventure - Giving Back During a Recession

Martha's Big Adventure -- Giving Back During a Recession

By Martha Randolph Carr

It's unusual to hear about any new business owner who feels that giving back is an integral part of the business plan. Imagine how rare that trait is for a business that started the exact moment as the current recession. Chris Rutledge, the young owner of Red Line Painting had a plan when he started out and despite news reports that sent others to stockpile, he kept his hands open.

He stuck to his plan and faced down the economic tsunami that took out much older corporate giants and kept taking it one day at a time. It's all working out, slowly but surely.

Rutledge has been making monthly donations to different Chicago area charities, where his business is based, from the inception of his business in January 2008. September's recipient was Chicago's All Saints Church Episcopal and Hunger Rocks 2009. The church office reported that the offer to have any room painted was a hot item at the silent auction, which raised $60,000 to feed the hungry in the Ravenswood neighborhood. More information on Red Line's program can be found at

It's said that integrity is defined by what we do when no one else is around. To see such acts of generosity that weren't timed to get the giver something in return, which is in reality barter and not a gift often ends up inspiring others or at least making a lot of people feel better about surviving this particularly hard time.

One of the first recipients of Red Line Painting's mission to give back was to a public school classroom for children with special needs through Donors 'I teach kids with behavior disorders,' said Amy Jeffers, the teacher who received Red Line Painting's help. 'We really had no funding, no help and kids like that need more. Chris is the kind of person that if he has anything extra, he's willing to give it.'

It turned out to be a very long winter for Red Line Painting but they kept on giving and the business survived and grew.

The company now regularly employs 10 people and has painted over 150 homes, businesses and even architectural gems in Chicago, including places of worship. As an ingenious measure of how the economy is improving Rutledge can tell you that in 2008 Red Line Painting went through only 400 gallons of paint but through just September of this year they've already used up 700 gallons and are going strong. Rutledge says the company specialty is being able to take off any kind of old finish and adorn it with the latest technology.

That brings up one last interesting note about this company and reinforces another truth we often hear but don't get to see put into practice quite as often. The idea of putting faith to work, which always requires us to go first and do the best we can with what we have.

Currently, Red Line Painting is painting the extensive metal exteriors of a 33 condominium unit managed by DOMUS, Inc of Chicago, owned by Donna Firman. The railings have to be cleaned and then painted all by hand and the work can be tedious. But Rutledge approached the job the way he does every single opportunity that comes along. 'No other contractor I've ever worked with has ever been so knowledgeable,' said Firman. 'He even had the paint rep from Sherman Williams out here to meet with me twice. That's very unusual.

'On this project I've had up to 10 different employees on the property and there's no swearing, no excessive chit chat. They've very clean cut. As a property manager I hire contractors all the time and most of the time I don't let them talk to my unit owners. Any one of them from Red Line Painting can talk to anyone of the unit owners any time. Gives me such a sense of relief,' she said.

It can be tough when looking at the pile of bills and the empty bank account or even to have a job and still be able to reach out and be of service to others. Chris Rutledge is helping others though to see faith at work and it's lighting the path for the rest of us. More adventures to follow.

Martha Randolph Carr's latest book, A Place to Call Home, a memoir about the reemergence of U.S. orphanages is available wherever books are sold. Email Martha at: or visit

© 2009 Martha Randolph Carr. Martha's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. newspaper syndicate. For info call Sales at (805) 969-2829 or email

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