The message on the T-shirt one of her students was wearing prompted Katie Poniatowski to ask the young man’s mother to inquire about something.
“Where did you get this? I want to feel good on Friday,” she asked.
So, it would seem, does everyone. At least, that has been the response to Brian Lund’s “#feelgoodfriday” shirt since he first wore it to Upper St. Clair High School on, naturally, a Friday.
The school’s student-run SHOP@USC – that stands for Showing How Opportunity Pays – started producing short-sleeved T-shirts bearing the inspirational phrase onApril 22, and they have been a hot seller since.
“We’re in the, hopefully, tail end of a pandemic – everybody’s fingers crossed – and it’s been a long 13 months. So we just needed some positivity,” Poniatowski said. “We need something to make us feel good, something happy, something to look forward to. Brian is always happy and always brings a smile to everyone’s face. So we just thought, well, this could be our positive thing that we’re going to promote.”
The showing of support for Brian is the latest in a series of positives for Donna and Donald Lund regarding their son, 17, who has autism.
“A lot of people have been involved, from Day One, in Brian’s progress, and it seems in the past year he’s really started to verbalize. So that’s something that is exciting for our family,” Donna said. “You get to a point where you kind of starting thinking, oh, maybe he’s not going to talk. But he’s talking, and so it’s great.”
She has been chronicling his progress for family members and friends – “Brian has a little cheering section” – by posting videos on social media, including one of him wishing himself a happy birthday.
“That kind of struck a chord with people,” she said. “People loved it, and people messaged me and said, ‘I can’t believe how well he’s doing.’ And it became exciting.”
And so she and Brian’s sister, Katie, started to think of a good catchphrase to accompany the videos, complete with the obligatory hashtag. They came close with “thoughtful Tuesday.”
“Then finally we said, ‘feel-good Friday!’” Donna recalled. “And it just sounded right.”
The next step was inevitable, as far as she was concerned.
“I’m a little bit obsessed with message T-shirts. Brian’s teachers from kindergarten can attest to that. I always have him in T-shirts with messages,” she said. “So of course, I had to get a #feelgoodfriday T-shirt made. Then there seemed to be interest in the T-shirt. A couple of people said, ‘Hey, I want a T-shirt.’”
And of course, one of them was Poniatowski, who subsequently talked with SHOP@USC coordinator Michelle Zirngibl about Brian and his classmates working on producing the articles of clothing to meet the demand.
“I asked her that on a Wednesday,” Poniatowski said, “and on Thursday, she had them already making shirts.”
One of the goals of SHOP@USC is to enable students with special needs to design and manufacture products while learning how to develop a business plan that includes all aspects such as pricing, marketing, sales and inventory of products.
“When we were talking about the possibility of us making the shirt, I love the fact that the students become part of that process,” Zirngibl said. “Brian wears the shirt, and everybody loves it. Now, Brian gets to be part of the process of making that shirt, and his peers have the opportunity to learn those work skills while they are also making those shirts.”
They are being sold in the SHOP@USC bookstore at the high school and also can be ordered, along with other products, at www.shopusc.org.
For every shirt sold, $1 is donated to the Autism Caring Center, which has the mission of enhancing the lives of individuals and families by working diligently to provide support, resources, advocacy and offer training to community businesses to raise awareness and acceptance.
“I think it’s important to teach all students that giving back is something you should always do in life,” Zirngibl said.
For Donna Lund, the concept of the students giving back includes the kindness they always have shown toward her son.
“To see Brian in a picture with 20 kids wearing #feelgoodfriday shirts that he kind of started was emotional for me. It was so sweet,” she said. “My word to sum up all of this, that makes me so happy, is camaraderie. At the end of the day, that’s what we all want in life, that feeling of camaraderie.”