I was packing to go out of town when my seven-year-old daughter asked, "Dad, where are you going?" I replied, "Paws." She then asked, "What is Paws?" and I told her, "It is where Jim Davis creates the Garfield comic strip." She gasped and exclaimed, "You're going to Garfield's house!"
My plane landed at the Indianapolis International Airport, where I met up with a group of people from the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation. We were going to Paws to facilitate the transition of SparkTop.org from the Schwab's Foundation to the Professor Garfield Foundation.
During the hour-and-half drive from Indianapolis to Muncie, I was trying to imagine what the corporate headquarters for the global icon Garfield would look like. After all, we were talking about Garfield, which is syndicated in 2,570 newspapers worldwide, is read by approximately two hundred and sixty-three million readers, and has won four Emmy Awards for Outstanding Animated Program. Guinness World Records named Garfield "The Most Widely Syndicated Comic Strip in the World." I was envisioning a large glass skyscraper with a twenty-foot-high bronze cat in the lobby.
During the last forty or so miles of the drive, all we could see around us were row crops. We were driving through the heartland of America, not corporate America. If our driver had not been paying very close attention, we would have missed our turn onto the little country road, next to a farmhouse, that would eventually bring us to Garfield's front door. Just when I was considering that we might have made a wrong turn, our driver announced, "Here we are."
The building was a combination of dark brown brick, light brown wood shingles, and glass. There was no large bronze cat to greet us, but it was apparent that we had arrived at "Garfield's house" by the five-foot round paw print in the bricks on the side of the building.
Inside, a Garfield figure greeted us, sitting on a park bench with his trademark grin. This was not the last we would see of this familiar feline. Something "Garfield" occupied every square foot of the building - from the boardroom, which was lined with countless awards, including the four Emmys, to the licensing room, which was filled with thousands of Garfield mugs, coats, clocks, collector plates, and more. The cafeteria we ate lunch in had a coin-operated Garfield kitty ride. Original art by Jim Davis hung on the walls, and every workspace of the more than twenty artists, writers, designers, web designers, sculptors, animators, and licensing business executives was adorned with Garfield items. This was truly the house that Garfield built.
I have had the pleasure of working with Jim Davis and his foundation for a little over a year now. The Professor Garfield Foundation is hoping to give credibility to the process of learning to read through reading comics. ProfessorGarfield.org is a wonderful site, and I highly recommend it. I also recommend SparkTop.org, the reason for my first visit to Paws.
SparkTop.org presents a unique blend of entertainment, technology, and information designed to nurture self-awareness, self-esteem, and self-advocacy among children with learning challenges. Targeting kids 8 to 12 years old, the site addresses several important areas in which they need support. Through an online community, kids can celebrate their hobbies, talk about their talents, and learn what other kids love doing. They can also create a music mix, write a poem, or draw a story - and share it with others. They can ask questions about learning disabilities, friends, or school - and get answers they can trust from people who know what they're going through. And they can turn to Dr. Bart, a learning disabilities expert, for tips on maximizing their learning strengths and managing their learning disabilities. SparkTop.org is free of charge, carries no advertising, and is fully compliant with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
As I prepared to end my "play date" at "Garfield's house," I realized there was more going on under this roof than just turning out the comic cat. Even though it was not the glass skyscraper I had originally envisioned, this quaint studio in rural Muncie was a lot bigger in scope than I had thought.
The last thing I noticed before walking out the door was a plain sign that simply read "Take care of the cat, and the cat will take care of you," and it is true. The cat is taking care to make a difference for kids, whether it is by teaching them to read through comics or by providing a safe haven for kids with learning challenges such as dyslexia. So, I say, "Take care of the cat because the cat is helping to take care of some very special kids."
When I arrived back home, my daughter asked me, "How was your trip to Garfield's house?" and I answered, "His house is amazing and a lot bigger than I thought."
Big Garfield fan,