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Banking on KC – Gary and Trish Walker

Banking on KC – Gary and Trish Walker

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Kelly Scanlon:

Welcome to Banking on KC, I'm your host Kelly Scanlon, thank you for joining us. With us on this episode are Gary and Trish Walker. They're well known Kansas City entrepreneurs who have now focused their time and energy on a new nonprofit called Monkey Brain Art, which provides art courses, meditation, and mindfulness to calm the minds of veterans and first responders. Welcome Gary and Trish.

Gary Walker:

Hi Kelly.

Trish Walker:

Hello.

Kelly Scanlon:

Hey, it's so good to be talking with both of you again and to catch up here today. So thanks for being with us. I mentioned that both of you are entrepreneurs. In fact, you founded the first green cleaning company in the country and because of that, and all the branding that was associated with that, some of our listeners might know you better as the King and Queen of Green. And Trish, you're still the owner of another green cleaning company called 180 Elite Cleaning, right?

Trish Walker:

That's right. Yes, I started that company in 2018. So we've been going about three years now.

Kelly Scanlon:

In spite of the fact that you still have to run that company, what inspired both of you to refocus and co-found monkey brain art, where I know you're spending lots of time these days?

Gary Walker:

What inspired us is me doing art to help with my PTSD and my chronic pain. And just getting to a point where I felt like I could share that.

Kelly Scanlon:

Yes, because you are a service disabled veteran?

Gary Walker:

Correct. I just was finding such peace in my art studio and it was just where I went to get calm. If I was having a bad day, if I was struggling with the PTSD or unfortunately people use the word triggered. I like to call it tipped over. If I get tipped over then I would retreat to the studio and just get balanced again, get even again. And so as Trish and I were working on art and working on meditation, mindfulness, Trish is a certified Yogi. And so she had already learned a lot of it and then bringing that into my life to use it, to balance me out really started to make a big difference in me. Just taking that and having conversations with other veteran service organizations that we were involved in just on the charitable level philanthropically.

Kelly Scanlon:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Gary Walker:

Then it was a matter of being approached and them saying, listen, we really want you to think about running an art program for our clients. So Veterans and First Responders.

Kelly Scanlon:

So Monkey Brain Art was born. How long ago was this?

Trish Walker:

Well, it's kind of been in the works for about three years. So they originally, we were approached about three years ago and we went through some different life, crisis things. And so it wasn't the timing wasn't right. It was still in the back of our brain processing on how we would do it. And then in March?

Gary Walker:

March.

Trish Walker:

March.

Gary Walker:

March.

Trish Walker:

Yes.

Kelly Scanlon:

March of 2021?

Gary Walker:

2021.

Trish Walker:

Yes.

Gary Walker:

We went all in. We pushed all the chips into the center table and said, this is it. This is legacy. This is passion. This is the thing that we enjoy immensely. And we have a giving heart, a giving spirit. And so that's really what led us to create monkey brain heart.

Kelly Scanlon:

So, one year into the pandemic, you create this new nonprofit.

Gary Walker:

Yeah.

Kelly Scanlon:

organization.

Gary Walker:

Yeah, entrepreneur who starts a nonprofit in the middle of a major pandemic.

Kelly Scanlon:

Which we all thought was winding down. And obviously it hasn't, so let's go back to the name. You're going to have to explain the significance of monkey brain art. What does that mean?

Trish Walker:

Well, Buddhist Monks call an unsettled mind, monkey mind, or monkey brain. And so just the thought of that really hit home with me because when I think about my PTSD or when I talk to people that have PTSD, whether they be first responders or veterans or people that have trauma childhood trauma, that's what they say. I have trouble focusing. I have trouble remembering short term things. I get confused. And so all of these symptoms of an unsettled mind correlate to PTSD. So with the post-traumatic stress syndrome, I thought, man, this is the opportunity we need to share what we have with the world. And so Monkey Brain Art was born out of a Buddhist Monk saying of unsettled mind, monkey mind, monkey brain.

Kelly Scanlon:

We talked about how art was so therapeutic for you, Gary. Why is art so effective in calming monkey brain? I mean, it's used with patients, a lot of different patients that are survivors of all different kinds of trauma, not just PTSD.

Gary Walker:

Well, I'm going to make one clarification first, the one thing we do not say is we are not therapists. Trish and I are not licensed. We don't have a degree in it or anything else. What we're sharing with people is what has worked for me. And so in just using the tools that we've learned and it all goes back to the art, the meditation, the mindfulness. So the way that it works for me is a hyperfocus. So one thing that I learned from owning a business for 30 years is hyperfocus. Like constantly, constantly obsessed, focused, focused, focused when you're like that. You don't think about a lot of other things it gets put in the back of your mind. So we call it managing the monkey. So we're taking that monkey, who's chattering chattering and chattering, and unfortunately telling us to do things that we shouldn't do.

Gary Walker:

So, dangerous behavior, self-medicating, drinking, all the things that come with that. You're trying to take that monkey and manage it. If you try to control it, he can swim. If you try to drown with alcohol, he's like an Olympics one. So shutting off those temptations by being very focused on something. So, what I have seen through our classes and through myself, is having that focus on creating a piece of art, shuts all that other stuff up. And so that's where we've seen a huge breakthrough with the people that we're working with. Just being just super, super focused. You're not thinking about, oh, my back hurts. Oh, I can't sit still cause I'm in so much pain or, well did I turn the iron off and is the house burning down and then just go through the series of things in your brain of disasters.

Trish Walker:

Yeah, and Kelly kind of a good visual on monkey brain. If you can just imagine a monkey swinging through grabbing one branch after another branch, after another branch, how they swing through the jungle or whatever, that's kind of what your thoughts are like. They're just like, you're not ever focused on anything. And most people probably in their lifetime have experienced this monkey brain. I originally learned it in yoga, on how to calm your mind for people that are coming to our class, the warriors and veterans is that they aren't there because they're great artists. It doesn't have anything to do with being a great artist.

Trish Walker:

Some people may discover that they're a really good artist, which we have found, and some of them are just there to do something to focus on. And it's kind of just stress relieving. I don't know, I'm not an artist myself, in that way, but I enjoy doing some different types of art techniques. And it's just really rewarding to watch people because they come in very apprehensive of, I'm not an artist, but it's like Gary says, you might be able to draw a stick figure, but when you're done, you can draw a really cool stick figure. It's not, it's really about community.

Gary Walker:

Right.

Trish Walker:

And being around people that may be struggling with the same kind of things and just a fun time.

Kelly Scanlon:

Yes. The sharing that goes on, the support system that develops. And I imagine too, that in addition to the hyperfocus that you get, I would imagine that in addition to all the things you just talked about, the self expression that comes from putting that paint on canvas opens up something that maybe they don't know what it is they're expressing, but they're expressing something.

Trish Walker:

Right. And so what we make sure that we do is we have volunteers who are veterans and first responders that have PTSD that have been through programs and are at a point where they're mentors. And so what we do with them is we hold space and to get to that creative point, a lot of the people that go through our class are because they're PTSD are very hyper vigilant. And trust on their scale is very low and you have to earn that. And so we create a safe space for them. So when they do meditate, they eventually will close their eyes. I mean, it took us to get to like the third class to get everybody to close their eyes, because of that hyper state of alert. So we want to transfer that into the creativity and that energy into creativity.

Trish Walker:

And so and it's very important to, obviously we're not licensed therapists. There are art therapists in the world and they do tremendous work. The problem is there's not enough. There's not enough of them to deal with us being at war for 20 years. And that war creating a lot of broken souls and people that have terrible struggles with the PTSD and anxiety and depression and everything else. We haven't even seen the wave that's about to come. We call them warrior artists, they're warriors. We don't want to just, okay, that side of the class is veterans and that side of class is first responders. We want to make sure that we have community because that's so important. And that's what a lot of them are missing, especially since the pandemic. So you put someone who has PTSD in a lockdown mode for months and months and months, bad things happen.

Trish Walker:

So creating community for these people and getting them out carefully because of COVID. So we're very cognizant of that as well. So just getting them out and into this class has had, we've just seen, a tremendous change, life changing. We've had Kelly, we've had people tell us you've saved my life.

Kelly Scanlon:

I'm sure you have.

Gary Walker:

That we take very seriously.

Kelly Scanlon:

Let's talk about how the classes are structured. You've talked about what goes on inside the class. It's a nine week program, correct?

Trish Walker:

Yes, that is correct. Nine weeks, right now we're doing it at St. Michael's Veterans Center. The VA is also alongside us and they're helping us out with a lot of things. So the class is from 6-8 at St. Michael's on Tuesday, we go through a myriad of things. So we start out with, let's say, we start out with collage. We need to know where they're at artistically. And we need to know where they're at mentally, spiritually, physically, where are they at in their life? And so we have, them just do a collage. What we challenge them to do is we want you to create a picture of who you are right now. Like, what is your state right now? How do you feel, what do you think of yourself? And so we go through this whole process of doing collage and really letting them drill down. And so that's why it's so great that in the beginning of class, Trish does a mindfulness piece and then meditation.

Kelly Scanlon:

Yeah, talk to us about the mindfulness aspect of it Trish.

Trish Walker:

So the Japanese do a process where somebody had broke a King's bowl. It was a very valuable bowl to him. And so he was going to lose it. And because he was so upset about this bowl, well, somebody had saw this and they went and they put it back together with threads of gold. They soldered it back in there with gold and made the bowl more beautiful. So the whole point behind that is that just because you're broken doesn't mean you're not a whole, you're more beautiful because you are broken and just the different trials that you've gone through. And our first class is what we talked about that and people really on to that, oh, every week we do something along the lines of just something to think about. And then we flow right into a meditation piece and that's just to kind of relax them, calm their mind and prepare them to be creative and not be stressed out about what they're going to do.

Trish Walker:

And we purposely don't even tell them each week what we're going to do, because we don't want them stressing all week. Like, oh my gosh, we're going to do watercolors. And I don't know how to do watercolors. Somebody that's not art focused would that would stress me out if I'm like, oh my goodness, I have to be prepared. So we don't even tell them they just come first class, we had four people. So, we had like 10 signed up. Four people showed up every week. From that point on the word kind of got out and every week we'd have one or two more. And I think our last class we had like 19.

Gary Walker:

Yeah. We graduated at the end 19 people.

Kelly Scanlon:

Oh, that's great. Especially for that first cohort. And there is an application process, correct?

Gary Walker:

There is. And if you go to our website, monkeybrainart.org, there's the application there. There's a lot of pictures from our class and what was created, it talks about what monkey brain is and our goals, their aspirations, and our clients. And then obviously there's a donate button. So, cause we are a nonprofit, we have classes coming up in October. And so I want to announce here that we are starting a second class and it's going to be at Unity Village. It'll be on Thursdays. So we've gone.

Kelly Scanlon:

It's going to be open to first responders and veterans.

Gary Walker:

Right, so you still have to go through the application process. And our numbers are limited because of what we're trying to do, getting someone in a mindset of creativity and calm. We can't do 40 people at a time. It just does not work.

Trish Walker:

Gary's gone through a couple of different warrior programs and some of them give beads and they give you something different. Everybody gives you something different as kind of a reminder of you going through that class. And so we thought and thought, we're like, what can we give them that would be meaningful? So our last cohort, they did a pouring. And the great thing about pouring is you really don't have to be artistic at all. I mean, you like pick your color.

Gary Walker:

Yeah just.

Trish Walker:

So that's the most artistic part you have to be is like, what color combination you want, which is what I can handle. They were all so proud of their work. And so then we had them framed and at their graduation, we gave them their picture to hang on the wall as a remembrance of going through the class or just something that they can be proud of, that they accomplished.

Kelly Scanlon:

Exactly. And that's so symbolic, pouring out all of these demons.

Gary Walker:

That's what they are little demon flying monkeys.

Kelly Scanlon:

Yeah.

Gary Walker:

And, and it's unfortunate because a lot of people with PTSD they don't understand that. And I've served with people and I have military friends who are like, oh PTSD just suck it up and da da da. And I'm going to tell you what you get to a point where you're locking yourself in a dark room and trying to just start the day. Like I got to get a hold of myself before I walk out of here. And I'm not in a place I could even interact with people.

Gary Walker:

And just think if you didn't have a support system or you didn't have the tools to deal with that. That's a lot of our veterans end up being homeless because of that, because it's just this downward spiral that you can't pull the stick up to get your nose up out of it. And I went through it, I experienced it. And that's what we love about our class is everyone that's teaching has PTSD. And so they can relate to people. And when they share a story, it's a thing of, yeah, I felt that and this is what happened. Well, this is how I managed it.

Kelly Scanlon:

So you just finished up a cohort.

Gary Walker:

Yes.

Kelly Scanlon:

You have a new cohort starting, and you're going to be expanding to two nights a week. So you can serve twice as many clients. You also have your first ever event on tap. Tell us about that.

Gary Walker:

On October 9th at Unity Village, in the very center of their main campus, where all the courtyard where the rose garden is and the fountains from 10 to 6:00 PM, we are doing a KC United art festival, which is a benefit for Monkey Brain Art and hosted by Unity Village. We're not charging any admission. If you want to donate, then there'll be donation stations that you can give money at. We're not charging any admission. It's open to the public. We're going to have kids projects. We're going to have food trucks. And the big one is Drew Six and his band, The Soul Plains Drifters, are going to be our headliner entertainment for the night. The purpose of it is, is to bring people, to see quality, affordable art and generate interest in the warrior artists and community artists. So we're bringing in both and we're going to intermix them and we're going to expand our warrior artist community to now be working with other artists, doing other mediums, doing collaboration. And so this is the way that we see we can bring people together.

Kelly Scanlon:

So October the 9th, you can go out to Monkeybrainart.org and find out all about all the activities that you have playing in for that night, October the 9th. How can our listeners get involved with Monkey Brain Art? If that's something they'd like to do.

Gary Walker:

Oh, I'd love to hear from them. So if you want to email me, it's Gary@monkeybrainart.org. We're trying to make this real simple. Trish is Trish@monkeybrainart.org. You can email us, you can go to the website, the more on the Monkey Squad we got, the better. And that's what we call the volunteers. It's our Monkey Squad or The Squad. We have some amazing people on it already, but we're always looking to recruit more because that's a sense of community in all of these different things that we're doing the basis of that is community. So we need the support of the community. We need to get clients from the community.

Gary Walker:

We need corporations and donors to step up, to support it because monetizing the nonprofit and being the nonprofit, running it like a business and saying, okay, we're not going to take money from our warrior artists. And I've had a lot of people tell me, well, no, you should take like 10 points or you know, or 30 like most galleries. And then that way you're sustainable. I'm like, you know what, we're going to find a different way to be sustainable. And so back to community is we need support. We need volunteers. We need donations. We need people to buy our merchandise. We're going to have t-shirts hats, we got lots of stickers. Our sticker game is strong Kelly.

Kelly Scanlon:

It's takes a lot of effort to do what you're doing with just the two of you. So.

Trish Walker:

yes.

Gary Walker:

Right. And.

Trish Walker:

We need help.

Gary Walker:

Kelly, we've done a lot of things philanthropically and we've been involved in a lot of nonprofits. We've never run one. And so I'm trying to look at running Monkey Brain Art more nontraditional and being a disruptor like I said. And so we need people to hold space.

Kelly Scanlon:

Hey Gary and Trish, thank you so much for being on this episode of banking on KC and especially thank you for the work you're doing on behalf of our veterans and first responders.

Gary Walker:

Thanks Kelly.

Trish Walker:

Thank you. Thanks for having us.

Gary Walker:

We really appreciate it.

Trish Walker:

We appreciate it.

Joe Close:

This is Joe Close, President of Country Club Bank. Thank you to Gary and Trish Walker for being our guests on this episode of banking on KC. Art plays many roles in a community beyond being a source of enjoyment. It has the power to calm and to quiet, to soothe and to heal, for veterans and first responders and others who experienced traumatic situations. Expressing themselves through art can literally be a lifeline. We appreciate the efforts of Gary, a veteran with PTSD himself and his wife, Trish, to help others calm their minds through art. Country Club Bank is proud to be a supporter of the arts in Kansas City. And its community efforts to help our veterans, we value their service to our country. And we are committed to hiring returning veterans. Thanks for tuning in this week. We're banking on you Kansas City, Country Club Bank Member FDIC.