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The Man Behind the Brand

Hi there! A few of you reading this may know me from working on projects together but I’m sure many of you have no idea who I am or what it is that I do so I’m taking this opportunity to introduce myself and let you know what I do for RSRT.

About 9 years ago I went to a beautiful wedding with my girlfriend (now wife) in the Hudson Valley and met her entire family. We had a great time and her family welcomed me with open arms and hearts. Her cousin Jason and I shared an affinity for fancy sneakers, another cousin was dating a guy who I totally hit it off with and we ended up being bar buddies for the various events. But there was one person in particular who made a lasting impression on me. I’m a “kid person”, the guy you’ll see at a BBQ rolling around in the grass with toddlers or building a fort out of sofa cushions and bedsheets at Christmas with the family. At this wedding, I met Zoe for the first time. She was about 16 months old and completely stole my heart with her smile and the sort of charm that only a toddler can impress upon you. She was the first child, granddaughter, cousin, and niece of the family so she certainly was the star of the show. This was before “the diagnosis”. My wife mentioned to me that there were some concerns with development, but nothing too serious, kids develop at different stages. Still, I sensed an underlying anxiety and genuine fear in her voice when she spoke about her little cousin. There was something different about Zoe and it was important to stay optimistic but in an era when you can jump on google and type in a few symptoms, there is nothing scarier than scrolling through those search results and skimming through some worst-case scenarios. A few months later, Zoe was diagnosed with Rett Syndrome.

At that time, I was just a design intern at a small advertising agency in Los Angeles, trying to figure out what I wanted to do with myself. Eventually, that internship led to a Jr Designer position. Then I got the opportunity of a lifetime and was offered a Jr Art Director position at a new satellite office for the agency in Panama. In a year I had gone from an unpaid intern to running a team of 30+ designers, developers, animators, editors, and writers. We worked on big campaigns, for big clients. The stakes were high, the hours were long, and the pressure to hit a home run on every single project was intense. When I started, websites were built in Flash, social media was an afterthought and a blackberry was considered a smartphone. Needless to say, I saw the landscape shift drastically and had a unique perspective of being on the front lines of the fight to experiment and master the latest trends and best practices in a perpetually evolving digital world.

I remember getting home exhausted from work at 3 am after a client had an “emergency” last minute request the day before a deadline. My wife, Molly, noted that it was ridiculous that I was killing myself working long hours like this considering that I “wasn’t a heart surgeon saving lives or anything.” That resonated and stayed with me for a while. I loved the creative side of the projects and also coming up with fresh ideas and strategies to solve problems for clients but at the end of the day, I was just helping massive corporations sell their products to people.

In the summer of 2014, we moved to Brooklyn, NY to be closer to my wife’s family and for a change of scenery immediately following our wedding. The wedding was small and mostly for family and close friends. I remember running around and trying to get ready, as one does on their wedding day, but I noticed some guests were starting to arrive and I caught Zoe out of the corner of my eye. I hadn’t seen her in a few years and walked over to say hi. At this point, she was exhibiting more of the telltale symptoms of Rett but I remember hearing that she was “high-functioning” from my wife as a sort of silver lining a few years after she was diagnosed. I didn’t know what to expect. I’d done some reading about Rett and was aware that it was a spectrum disorder affecting individuals in different ways but I was impressed at how “present” she felt. She was walking and smiling and eating and doing all the things that I thought were very rare for someone with an already rare disorder. More importantly, I was taken aback by her beautiful smile.

My Wedding Day

My Wedding Day

It was around that time that my cousins, Rachel and Jason Rothschild, approached me to help them with some creative materials for their event, Reverse Rett NYC. I jumped at the opportunity and was excited to help out in any way possible. I worked hard on the designs and really poured my heart into the work. Everyone was happy with the work and it was amazing to hear the positive responses it was getting from the people supporting the event. It was an incredibly rewarding feeling, to make a contribution in any capacity to help Zoe and the hundreds of thousands of other people affected by Rett.

In the following months, I was approached by Monica to help out with a few odd jobs here and there. An email blast design, some social graphics, and ultimately a bit of an audit of RSRT’s brand and web presence. There was some great work done up to that point but there was room for improvement. I wanted to help but my availability was limited and I tried helping as much as possible without spreading myself too thin.

Then one day I got the call that would change the trajectory of my life. Monica had asked me if I had a second to chat about “some stuff”, which, if you know her at all, is out of character. She is a busy person who isn’t usually vague which is actually one of the things that I really admire about her. I answered the phone and she got straight to the point: “We could really use someone like you on our team. Would you ever consider working for us full time?” I remember getting goosebumps when she said it, it was an important moment. I accepted the offer and a few days later I turned in my resignation at the agency.

We didn’t waste any time: A full website redesign, rebrand and complete overhaul of the social media and marketing efforts. The first few months were very busy and there was a learning curve, I had very little experience working in a nonprofit atmosphere. Within 6 months we launched the new website. The following year we launched our own crowdfunding platform, RettGive. I created the branding and marketing materials for almost all of our events and had revamped our Facebook page with engaging content as well as fresh new eblast designs.

The past 3 years have been incredible. I’ve learned so much, and am pretty familiar with the research, even though I forget to italicize MECP2 every now and again. Working with my extremely dedicated colleagues has pushed me in ways that are unimaginable. Monica, in particular, has been a huge inspiration, her dedication is completely unwavering and very contagious. I’ve had to fill many roles at RSRT which has been challenging yet very fulfilling.

When I started, we had roughly 6k likes on Facebook. This past year we hit 20k likes. Traffic to our website is at an all-time high and this year we will most likely break the $1 Million mark raised with RettGive campaigns. I’m very proud of that. It makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something. Most importantly, if I have to work a bit over the weekend or take care of something late at night, my wife no longer gives me any guff : )

And who knows….maybe I will end up playing a small part in saving lives after all.

  • Luis Colina

    So proud of my son!

  • vkaliraman

    Pretty impressive dude. Congratulations! Glad you italicized the gene name 😎

  • Monika

    The first time that I scrolled through the RSRT website looking for any information that may help our daughter, Sofia, I noticed instantly how impressive and catching your design work is. As a graphic designer myself, and mother to a child with Rett Syndrome, I can imagine how fulfilling it must be to work on a site like this one :)