People often ask what inspires me as a photographer and artist, and the answer is everything.
I absorb it all, and it makes me who I am: God and His beautiful creation, my wife, my children, my extended family, friends, colleagues, music, movies — you name it. We really are what we surround ourselves with.
But, I had an experience several years ago that went beyond inspiration. The closest word I could to use to describe it would be a vision.
It happened in the summer of 2012. I had a meeting in Los Angeles with a company called VSCO, Visual Supply Company. We met in a hotel in Los Angeles, and I remember walking down the hallway and into a room. The room number was designed like a nametag – like an old school nametag. It said, “Hello, my name is Room 121.” For some reason, in that moment it just captured my attention.
I went into my meeting, and I started thinking about how I travel all the time with my work and how traveling is pretty lonely. I wondered, what if, as the lonely traveler, I could feel connected to a larger story out there?
What if when you walked into your room, there was a child’s face and their name above the room number? What if you suddenly felt connected to that story? What if the room was giving a couple of dollars a night to sponsor a child? What if you could even write a note of encouragement to that child?
I thought about our experience sponsoring children through Compassion. We have sponsored four kids in the last 14 years. We began to sponsor our first, Tayech Mamo (Ethiopia) in 2002 at age 8. She progressed out of the program last year at age 22 with plans to attend college. We watched her grow up through her letters, photos and pictures she would draw.
We have seen the true value of investing in the development of children in extreme poverty around the world.
With this in mind, I began dreaming about this idea of a room being connected to a child. But not just one room – what if you could walk down the hallway and see the faces of boys and girls all over the world who are in need or orphaned? What if every room was sponsoring each one of those children?
I was so moved by that idea, and as I was sitting there in my room, ideas for an entirely new hotel concept flooded over me like a big wave. I wondered, what if everything in this hotel was connected to a cause or a need?
Could a simple shift like that change the world? Imagine not just a hotel, but a global hotel chain, where every time you book a room:
- A child gets sponsored.
- The Internet fee fights human trafficking.
- Every product (soap, shampoo, linens, furniture, curated art, specialty products) is purchased from partners who are making a difference.
Everything would be connected to a cause. By choosing this hotel, you touch a hundred lives or more locally and internationally. You literally change the world in your sleep.
It took me three years to move from this vision to action. I finally just started walking forward, putting one foot in front of the other, and now we’re days away from needing to raise the remaining amount to make our initial campaign a success.
We’re calling it The Purpose Hotel.
Frederick Buechner said:
“Purpose is where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
That quote has become our mantra, as our team aims to create a joy-filled space where this generation can come together and leave a lasting legacy of hope.
I talk about all these ideas in a video for the Kickstarter campaign we’re currently running. We’re using Kickstarter to launch our initial design phase and to tell a story: that as individuals, our influence is limited, but together we can see some amazing, incredible things happen.
But I believe we can.
My wife Shannon and I have two children and we recently adopted two children from Haiti. My two biological children have welcomed their new siblings with open arms. And our new children are overcoming language and cultural barriers while learning to embrace life in an entirely new environment.
Needless to say, it’s been one of the most challenging couple of years of our lives. But it gives us daily opportunities to participate in and discuss the bigger picture of justice – child sponsorship does this, too, and that’s why I value it so much.
The local churches who partner with Compassion do a lot of things for the children in the sponsorship program and their families: meeting practical needs, providing education, restoring hope and vitality, empowering them to believe in themselves, and most important, loving them where they are. If the hotel can come alongside and help expand this work, hope and possibility seem endless.
I’m looking to invite as many people as I can to help make this possible. This is not about me. In fact, I love that I’ve promoted this as hard as I can, but now I’m truly walking in faith and depending on others. I actually cannot do this without the support of the Compassion International community. We depend on each other, and I think that’s a beautiful place to be.
Even though we have reached our initial funding goal, we still need pledges. The more money that can be raised on Kickstarter, the less we rely on outside funding and the more unique we get to build the hotel. If you pledge through Kickstarter, you become one of thousands of cofounders and will have your photo on the wall of every hotel we ever build.
Would you join us? Visit the campaign at ThePurposeHotel.com.
Update from Jeremy Cowart:
The Purpose Hotel finished strong with our Kickstarter campaign on Friday, October 7. We were blown away by the closing total of $679,587 raised by 4,236 Kickstarter backers!
We cannot thank the backers and supporters of this dream enough. This special group are the ones that will get their pictures on the walls of the hotel as initial founders of this movement. Compassion International will also be a huge part of this wall!
Now we put ideas into action for this hotel. Our work continues as we press on to finish up the planning and design phase of our first physical hotel building and give-back model.
Here is what is happening currently:
- We have already started the process of procuring our first items as a result of our successful Kickstarter campaign.
- We are working on the look and feel of how the building will come together.
- We are working on the finance and construction package for the first structures.
- We are planning some pretty exciting announcements and events, so watch for updates on thepurposehotel.com.