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Social Impact Heroes: Jim March of the Association of Mouth Foot Painting Artists of North America are helping disabled artists to become self-sufficient by teaching them to paint by mouth

We have an artist out in California named Dennis Francesconi. Dennis is a Full Member of MFPA, meaning he receives an income from the Association (versus our student members who receive monthly scholarships for training, materials, assistance and well-being), which he will receive for the rest of his natural life — even if his health worsens and […]


We have an artist out in California named Dennis Francesconi. Dennis is a Full Member of MFPA, meaning he receives an income from the Association (versus our student members who receive monthly scholarships for training, materials, assistance and well-being), which he will receive for the rest of his natural life — even if his health worsens and he is no longer physically able to paint. Dennis was, because of his membership, able to walk into the Social Security office and say to them, “I know longer need government aid.” The sheer importance of this act cannot be understated; that he, a person living with a profound disability, was able to take care of not only his own financial wellbeing, but that of his family. There really are no words to fully articulate the tremendous sense of freedom he has been able to achieve.


As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing The Atlanta, GA-based Jim March who, for 19 years, has served as the Chief Executive of the Association of Mouth Foot Painting Artists of North America. This unique, member-run organization provides disabled artists, who have learned to paint by mouth, the opportunity to become self-sufficient. Launched in 1957, and with 800 worldwide members, the artists create unique greeting cards, calendars, children’s products and books for consumers. Their motto today is the same as when the organization began — “Self Help — Not Charity


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I am a Chartered Accountant by profession, and I happened to be in charge of a major printing company back home in the UK. We were, at that time, printing all the cards and calendars for the Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists (MFPA) throughout Europe, and I was awe struck by the incredible artistry on display. I was approached by MFPA, who asked me if I would like to take over operations for North America. I of course jumped at the opportunity. That was in 1999, and it has been a superb experience.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I had the honor of meeting former VP Al Gore in 2003 when he was the keynote speaker at a convention we held for MFPA in Atlanta. It’s not until you meet such an influential person face to face that you realize the intelligence and magnetism inherent within them.Mr. Gore immediately showed great insight into the purpose of the Association and what it was trying to achieve for persons with disabilities throughout the world. I remember sitting down with him in his hotel room, and we spoke for a long time about MFPA, its history and mission. He nodded thoughtfully and wrote only a few words down on a piece of paper. That night, he proceeded to give a speech so filled with compassion, humor and insight it left the audience, which included many members of MFPA, spellbound.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I first moved to the USA, our offices were in Buffalo NY. Now, I grew up in the North of England and I am not unused to some pretty cold winters, but nothing could quite prepare me for Buffalo winters. I moved to Buffalo on January 31st 1999. I flew into Toronto and had now idea they were experiencing one of the worst winters on record. As I drove across the Peace Bridge into the USA, the snow and ice was so bad I could barely see out of my windscreen. So being a little green around the gills, I thought I would open my windows in the hopes I could see out. So imagine my dismay when, at the moment I rolled my window down, a huge truck decided to overtake me, flinging a huge wave of sleet and snow through the window! I had to walk into my new office soaked to the bone and feeling decidedly sorry for myself- not a great first impression. Moral of this story- Always come prepared for all eventualities. You literally never know what life is going to hurl at you.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Regrettably, we still live in a very ableist society and there exists a tremendous stigma regarding all forms of disability. One of the amazing things about the MFPA is that it helps to remove this stigma. Here are men and women throughout the world, living with disability, who are thriving. They are living with an assurance of financial security by doing something for which they have tremendous passion. As such, they are able to live full and enriched lives in their families and communities. You really cannot put a quantitative value on just how important it is to feel that you can live with dignity.

Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was impacted by your cause?

We have an artist out in California named Dennis Francesconi. Dennis is a Full Member of MFPA, meaning he receives an income from the Association (versus our student members who receive monthly scholarships for training, materials, assistance and well-being), which he will receive for the rest of his natural life — even if his health worsens and he is no longer physically able to paint. Dennis was, because of his membership, able to walk into the Social Security office and say to them, “I know longer need government aid.” The sheer importance of this act cannot be understated; that he, a person living with a profound disability, was able to take care of not only his own financial wellbeing, but that of his family. There really are no words to fully articulate the tremendous sense of freedom he has been able to achieve.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

As I mentioned before, we still live in an ableist society. The USA is certainly one of the more progressive countries in the world regarding the rights of disabled people; however, we still have a long way to go in increasing available access to health care such as the affordability of home aids and medical equipment. Furthermore, from my work with MFPA, I have a tendency to see the world through a different lens. I find myself scanning entrances to buildings or restaurants and thinking to myself, “Can one of the artists access this property? Can they maneuver their chair in the space?” Regrettably, the answer is often no. I also think we can do a lot more as a society toward destigmatizing disability, specifically providing more opportunities for assimilation in our communities and work environments.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I would define leadership, or a leader, as someone who cultivates both trust and faith. Trust in his/her abilities and faith that they will support initiative and growth in those they lead. I was a child of WW2 evacuees, and my wife’s parents (who had her much later in life) were directly involved in WW2 themselves. Her father as a soldier and her mother working on the home front. Throughout what was one of the worst times in British history, our parents still had hope because of the steadfast and resolute leadership of the Prime Minister at that time, Winston Churchill. His speeches over the wireless and in parliament held a terrified and broken nation together. They trusted him and they had faith that no matter what, he would steer Britain through. “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Winston Churchill.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1) Wearing my Accountant’s hat, I wish somehow we all could have been forewarned of the 2008 global financial crisis. The crisis left hardly anyone untouched and brought misery and suffering throughout the world that could, and should, have been avoided.

2) Being involved in a worldwide Association it would have been tremendously helpful if someone could have gazed into a crystal ball and foretold the incredible volatility in currencies over the last 20 years. Unfortunately, some of it is due to manipulation as a result of basic greed, which creates financial problems for so many people.

3) That one should never, and I mean never, underestimate the power of the human spirit. The Mouth and Foot Painting Artists remind me of this daily though their perseverance and incredible talent. I will admit, I was naïve to the full ramifications of what physical impairments meant, specifically quadriplegia and I was left shaken during my initial encounters with our artists. However, their love of life, humor and tenacity made me see that it is the power of the human heart that triumphs.

4) I had no idea of the sacrifices someone is willing to make for someone they care for and love. I have traveled the world to attend and meet with artists and the compassion and empathy displayed by the artists’ aids and care givers is unparalleled. Never have I seen such remarkable kindness. It gives me hope.

5) Finally, on a personal note, that there is no trouble that cannot be lessened by the simple, loving nature of one’s dog.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I don’t think of myself to be an influencer, rather an “influencee.” My life is forever changed by the incredible impact the artists from the MFPA have had on me. So if we, the MFPA, can change the way people view disability, then I believe we make a lasting impression on the world.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

A Mark Twain quote, “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see,” has always stuck with me. Growing where I did in the UK, a northern working-class mill town, kindness wasn’t often given out freely. Especially as a boy, you were taught be tough, to be scrappy and to not show weakness. I now know that kindness is the ultimate act of courage and has the power to change lives and change the world.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I have to say, Her Royal Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. Throughout her reign, she has maintained such dignity, discretion and grace. She sees everything but says nothing. To listen to her talk about the history she has born witness to, the people she has met and the tragedies she has lived through, as well as the triumphs (perhaps over a gin and Dubonnet as I hear it is her favorite cocktail). I think that would make for a superb afternoon.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

We have a Facebook page, MFPA USA, where we post stories, updates and images about the amazing work the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists of the USA are doing. https://www.facebook.com/mouthandfootpaintersusa/

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