Photo by Degilbo

Chris Rutledge, the young owner of Red Line Painting has been making monthly donations to different Chicago area charities from the inception of his business in January 2008. One receipient was All Saints Church Episcopal and Hunger Rocks. The church office reported that the offer to have any room painted was a hot item at the silent auction, which raised $60,000 to feed the hungry in the Ravenswood neighborhood.

It’s unusual to hear about any new business owner who feels that giving back is an integral part of the business plan. Imagine how rare that trait is for a business that started the exact moment as the current recession. But Rutledge stuck to his plan and faced down the economic tsunami that took out much older corporate giants and just took it one day at a time. It’s all working out, slowly but surely.

It’s said that integrity is defined by what we do when no one else is around. As the daughter of an Episcopal minister who was raised on the grounds of the Virginia Theological Seminary, I’ve had the blessing of meeting quite a few people who did the right thing and then quietly went about their day. Every time I’ve seen such acts of generosity that weren’t timed to get the giver something in return, which is in reality barter and not a gift, it has been a witness for me to God’s everlasting grace.

One of the first recipients of Red Line Painting’s mission to give back was to a public school classroom for children with special needs through Donors Choose.org. “I teach kids with behavior disorders,” said Amy Jeffers, the teacher who received Red Line Painting’s help. “We really had no funding, no help and kids like that need more. Chris is the kind of person that if he has anything extra, he’s willing to give it.”

It turned out to be a very long winter for Red Line Painting but they kept on giving and the business survived and grew. The company now regularly employs 10 people and has painted over 150 homes, businesses and even architectural gems in Chicago, including places of worship. As an ingenious measure of how the economy is improving Rutledge can tell you that in 2008 Red Line Painting went through only 400 gallons of paint but through just September of this year they’ve already used up 700 gallons and are going strong. Rutledge says the company specialty is being able to take off any kind of old finish and adorn it with the latest technology. That brings up one last interesting testament about this company and reinforces another truth we often hear in sermons on Sunday. The idea of putting faith to work, which always requires us to go first and do the best we can with what we have.

Red Line Painting has also painted the extensive metal exteriors of a 33 condominium unit managed by DOMUS, Inc, owned by Donna Firman. The railings had to be cleaned and then painted all by hand and the work can be tedious. But Rutledge approached the job the way he does every single opportunity that comes along. “No other contractor I’ve ever worked with has ever been so knowledgeable,” said Firman. “He even had the paint rep from Sherman Williams out here to meet with me twice. That’s very unusual.

“On this project I’ve had up to 10 different employees on the property and there’s no swearing, no excessive chit chat. They’ve very clean cut. As a property manager I hire contractors all the time and most of the time I don’t let them talk to my unit owners. Any one of them from Red Line Painting can talk to anyone of the unit owners any time. Gives me such a sense of relief,” she said.

When we operate from a place of faith, no matter what the circumstances around us may look like and keep doing the right thing, we are rewarded. However, some of us may hesitate to step out on faith first, without the guarantee that we will be met by all that we need. That’s where having an example that shows us it can be done even in trying times can act as balm on a troubled soul.

It’s times like these that our faith really gets the opportunity to stretch and grow and therefore, when the darker times are over, we can look back and see that there were so many blessings after all. Chris Rutledge is helping others to see that by his faith at work and it’s lighting the path for the rest of us.

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