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Mike Manhardt and One Strong F.A.M.I.L.Y. take a message of mercy to the streets

Mercy means showing compassion to those in distress.

But for many it isn't just a word, or an idea for that matter. It has become a movement.

And it is spreading beyond church walls and onto the streets.

Mike Manhardt is helping to lead the way through his group, One Strong F.A.M.I.L.Y., following on the heels of a video, "Mercy in Motion," whose making he inspired.

F.A.M.I.L.Y. is an acronym that stands for "Forget About Me, I Love You." Manhardt, who trademarked the name in 2001, is focused on creating social campaigns that inspire everyday acts of love and kindness.

The businessman and motivational speaker came up with the catchy phrase while working with youths in Bermuda, accompanied by his friend Father Stan Fortuna, a traveling Catholic priest.

"It's a way of life. It's an attitude," said Manhardt, a devout Catholic. "Putting others before ourselves is the very foundation of everything Jesus Christ taught us."

Manhardt emphasizes that the campaign isn't solely for the religious.

"You don't have to be Catholic to care about people, to put others before ourselves, or to want to help those who suffering," he said.

Even through his business, Manhardt aims to live the faith.

Manhardt, 51, is a founding partner of Anaheim Studios — a 3-year-old web development, marketing, photography and videography business focusing on creating "media that matters."

The production company got its humble start in a space across from Disneyland in 2013 but has since worked with big-name clients — including Michael Bublé, Josh Groban and Rob Lowe — brands and organizations, Manhardt said. The business is no longer housed in the space, having moved offices to Los Angeles County.

The studio also helped produce THE JOURNEY: Christ Cathedral Faith, Music & Arts Festival with Matt Maher, held Sept. 18 at Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove. The event celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Diocese of Orange.

Anaheim Studios strives to adhere to the "F.A.M.I.L.Y." mantra.

Mark McElrath, president of Catholics at Work OC — a local professional and business club that strives to bridge the gap between faith and the workplace — can attest to this mercy overlap between personal and professional, especially as it pertains to a media business.

"The mission is to use a digital medium to share the Gospel with everyone," McElrath said.

One Strong F.A.M.I.L.Y. partners with Catholics at Work OC and other Orange County faith and service organizations, including Christ Cathedral's Helping House food bank, the St. Thomas More Society in Irvine, the Catholic Worker Movement in Santa Ana, the Wells of Life in Mission Viejo and the Khalsa Peace Corps' Share a Meal food service.

In carrying out his mission, which includes regular visits to areas known to have high homeless populations, such as L.A.'s Skid Row, Venice Beach, Hollywood and the Santa Ana riverbed in Orange County, Manhardt relies on social media.

"I'll throw up something on Facebook, inviting people spontaneously, and people just show up ... young adults, individuals, entire families, Christians and non-religious," he said.

 

The "Mercy in Motion" video, created by a two non-Catholic teens who had heard Manhardt speak at a Catholic youth event in November 2015, was what kick-started the movement of the same name.

"They were looking at me like, what is this, we want to do this, this is what the world needs," he recalled. "... And then by themselves they put together a video, challenging people of all races, regions, and faiths to understand that everyone can be merciful.

"It made me cry," Manhardt said.

Use of these various forms of media doesn't mean that Manhardt doesn't go low-tech sometimes to get the message out. He said his group has given away close to a million wristbands bearing the F.A.M.I.L.Y. message to schools and businesses nationwide — even to sports teams like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New England Patriots.

He sells other wristbands, including multi-colored silicone bands and metal badges, for $15 to $20 at mercyinmotion.com to finance his acts of goodwill.

One Strong F.A.M.I.L.Y.'s latest social campaign was inspired by Pope Francis's call in late 2015 for Catholics and non-Catholics to practice works of mercy.

(The church's holy Year of Mercy — officially marked from Dec. 8, 2015, to Nov. 20 — was also seen as a way for Catholics to focus on forgiveness from God.)

"The Year of Mercy may be over, but mercy never ends," Manhardt said. "Selfless love, forgiveness and mercy must reach beyond the confines of the church to other religions, as [Pope] Francis said. That's what this is — living out the corporal works of mercy and doing simple, everyday acts of kindness."

Manhardt's education at the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio — he moved to Southern California in 2002 — instilled in him a deep, Franciscan-like desire to love and serve the poor, he said.

Deacon Steve Greco, founder of Spirit Filled Hearts Ministry in Irvine and a talk show host for Immaculate Heart Radio, recently interviewed Manhardt about the mercy movement for his show.

"He is the personification of the new evangelization in the church," Greco said. "Taking the Gospel in a tangible way, and bringing it to the streets."

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