Making Music, Making a Difference

He sells t-shirts by day and plays music by night. It sounds a little like a setup for a superhero origin story, but how Ryan Schraffenberger brings these two occupations together to make a difference is about as real as it gets.

Ryan’s Promotions Guy shop was founded in the Florida Keys in 2012 and it is focused on sustainable promotional products, meaning not only eco-friendly but also products with a lasting shelf life. “We are not interested in providing products that will add to the landfill,” as the website succinctly puts it.

This alone puts Ryan and his shop firmly in the “force for good” category. But it’s what he does in his off hours that sets Ryan apart.

Ryan in Haiti

A few years ago, Ryan accepted an invitation from Ryan Moor (yes, that Ryan Moor) to join him on a trip to Haiti. They were there to get a closer look at what went into making Allmade apparel, a project which resonated well with the sustainable mission of the Promotions Guy as a business. 

What Ryan Schraffenberger saw there also tugged on a more personal thread. “I fell in love with the place,” he says. “And I wanted to do something.”

This inspiration led to a tough question: what could he do? He asked Ryan Moor and discovered a connection through their translator and tour guide, Bekenson. His wife Callie worked with La Pointe Foundation, an organization which supports communities through health care, education, safe living conditions and entrepreneurship. They were doing important work in Haiti and could use any support Ryan could provide.

While hanging out on a rooftop in Haiti with a group of friends, someone brought out a guitar and Ryan started to jam. The second connection was made on that rooftop – Ryan realized that he could put his talent for music to good purpose simply by playing a few songs and drawing together a group of people who wanted to know more.

“I love making music,” Ryan explains. “I don’t really care to make any money at it but playing to help others works.”

Making music

How it works is pretty simple, and it’s a lot like what happened on that rooftop in Haiti. Ryan shows up to a campground or a local restaurant, he brings his guitar and maybe a speaker. He plays music and he tells his story. “We don’t do much to promote it,” he says, adding that he’s not really that into social media. “It’s mostly just for the people who are already there.” He might play songs by anyone from Cyndi Lauper to Metallica, as long as he knows it and it encourages his audience to tip. “There’s not usually a lot of people, but the ones who are there open their wallets,” Ryan adds.

So Ryan plays, he talks about Haiti and he raises money. He accepts tips and he sells t-shirts at each performance, raising between $300 and $500 a night. All of this money goes to La Pointe. “I just let them decide how best to use it. For me it’s just about keeping those doors open.”

It may not sound like a lot of money by American standards, but La Pointe uses their resources well. Through the work they do, $25 is enough to feed a family of five for a week, and about $154 can support a Haitian child’s education for a year. Not bad for a night spent playing the guitar.

“Being on the road is a great way to spread good news and connect with people in a new way,” says Ryan. It’s those connections that keep him going. He has focused his business on selling sustainable promotional goods, and while his music may seem like a pretty wide departure from that there’s one clear goal both activities share: in whatever way he can, he’s making a difference.

Making a difference