“You are beautifully made in the image of God, and I hope you always remember that you are loved and cherished by so many.”
That’s what President Donald Trump had to say to a young painter from Powder Springs after receiving a print of his work in the mail.
The painter, Gage Hogue, 21, is blind and has autism. He is non-verbal, but he loves spending time with his grandpa, Randy Hogue, swinging, playing the drums or working on their paintings together.
Randy Hogue retired as a sergeant after a 40-year career with the Cobb County Sheriff’s Department, but he still works there in a civilian capacity. Hogue said painting is just a hobby for him, a way to spend time with Gage and his other grandchildren.
“I have my other grandkids, and I’ve helped them paint a picture or two, and I said, ‘He needs to paint him one,’” he said. “We decided we need to have him paint an American flag, and I had the idea to video tape it.”
That was last September, and Hogue said the video has blown up in popularity.
“I posted the video on social media; it went wild,” he said. “I started getting hits and people wanting prints and prints and prints,” he said. “I said I’d be happy to make prints up to send to you, and if you want to send a donation, you could. It would help with his needs, helmets, gloves, special foods, things he can enjoy playing with.”
Hogue said he thought the president might like a print of the artwork, so he sent two to the White House, one about three months ago and another last month.
“I decided to send a print to the president, to the White House, with the hopes of getting a letter back on that letterhead, just to get that in his memory file,” he said. “I thought it would be real nice just to get something from the White House, whoever the sitting president is.”
Hogue sent the print along with a story about Gage’s disability.
“We thought we would just give him this gift as appreciation for what he’s doing for America, standing up for vets and law enforcement and his support of the American flag,” he said. “It’s just really important for America to have someone that supports our symbol.”
After that, Hogue checked the mailbox in anticipation every day.
“I went every day looking for some kind of response, but last Saturday I went out there, and there was a big manila envelope, and on the return address, it just had one of those code stamps like a bar code across it,” he said. “It was addressed to Gage Hogue with my address on it.”
He opened it up, and what he saw brought him to tears. The envelope included two copies of the letter, one in braille, along with a signed photo of the president.
“I probably got a little choked up with the last paragraph,” he said. “It stated that you were made in the image of God, and to know that so many will always love and cherish you. It was just really special. … It means somebody in Washington cares enough about people with disabilities.”
Since he got the letter, Hogue said he has heard back from people from as far away as China, mostly messages of love and support.
The proud grandpa said watching Gage grow up has shown him that people with special needs can be just as loving and creative as anyone else, and he hopes the publicity Gage has gotten for his painting will help others see the value in these members of society.
“It’s about getting the world to see how to look at people with disabilities instead of shunning them,” he said. “So many of them are very approachable, they like to be spoken to, to be included and praised for doing simple things. … I was hoping to open some eyes for other people who wasn’t aware of it, who don’t have to travel down that path every day with a disabled child, to give them a better understanding.”