GZA from Wu-Tang Clan smiles from a framed photo on a gray wall, his arm around a 5-foot-9 woman with blue roots and shoulder-length curls. To the left, the same woman poses with 50 Cent in a 4-by-6 snapshot nestled below autographed photos of drag queen Peppermint and bodybuilder Phil Heath, the seven-time Mr. Olympia winner.
“My favorite bodyguard, Mindy,” the autograph reads. “Best wishes.”
Below these mementos sits Mindy Arendt at her desk, twining her fingers around a plum-colored lock of hair as she waits for her iMac to start so she can begin her day.
Tucked into a four-bedroom brick house just a few miles from Denton’s downtown Square, her home office is mission control for at least four businesses and two nonprofits. Like Arendt, the office is a mosaic of quirky energy and brisk efficiency. A row of two-inch binders with the names of her most consuming projects sits prominently on her chalk-colored desk.
The photographs lining the wall are as much a reflection of her love of connection as her larger-than-life presence. Everybody knows Mindy.
“If you walk into a crowded place, and you just look for the person with the most people crowded around them and the loudest noise, that’s where Mindy is every time,” friend Charlie Hunter says. “She doesn’t know a stranger.”
More telling than the celebrity photos are the mementos that reflect her values and accomplishments — a Voyage Dallas profile that explores her experiences as a female leader; her diploma from Stephen F. Austin State University, where she studied photojournalism; a Gandhi print on being the change you wish to see in the world; a wooden plaque commemorating her being named Dentonite of the Year at the 2017 DAM awards.
Besides her full-time job as an art director for Vibra Healthcare, Arendt, 35, moonlights as a community leader. The president of Friends With Benefits Denton, a nonprofit that raises money for local causes, she has also championed several projects independent of the group, volunteering at Thin Line Fest, Best Little Brew Fest in Texas, Cloud Nine Charities and 35 Denton music festival. While COVID-19 has upended many nonprofits, straining fundraising efforts as donors feel the pinch of a slowing economy, Arendt has doubled down her efforts, finding creative ways to support locals.
She seems almost insistent on dedicating herself to helping others. “If I’m physically able or financially able to assist somebody and make their lives better, then I’m going to do it,” she says.
A gift for giving
That affinity for philanthropy has been with Arendt most of her life. Growing up in the Gainesville area, her mom Jean, a schoolteacher, had Mindy and her three older siblings involved in community work. Arendt volunteered at the local Meals on Wheels, visited nursing homes and helped her family collect soda tabs for Ronald McDonald House Charities.
“It was totally Mom — she’s like, ‘It doesn’t cost us anything, this is the least we can do and it’s going to help somebody,’” Arendt says.
While working to support locals at the height of the pandemic, Arendt faced her own struggles. Her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, which had gone into remission but returned last year. Though Arendt was not allowed to visit her mother at the hospital because of COVID-19 policies, that didn’t stop her from driving an hour to Texoma Medical Center to bring Jean a strawberry shake from Braum’s — her mom’s favorite.
April 21, 2020, would be the last time Arendt would make the trip. Jean died the morning of April 23.
Just eight months later, her father was hospitalized with COVID-19 and given a 2% chance of living. He passed away Dec. 18.
The losses took their toll. Although her parents preached a fierce independence, their family remained close. “Mom always knew what was going on in my life,” Arendt says.
That independence was something Arendt adopted early on. At Era High School, she was, among other things, an academic standout, a cheerleader, a tennis player and co-founder of her school’s chapter of the National Beta Club, a student leadership organization.
“I was at a college interview, and they called the school because they were like, ‘There’s no way she does all this,’” Ardent recalled. “[The school’s] like, ‘Have you met her? That’s exactly what she’s doing.’”
After graduating from college in 2007, Arendt chose to live in Denton, even after breaking up with her college boyfriend. But Arendt did make a move of another kind, one that would turn out to make a big impact on her life.
‘You can change things’
Wanting to experience other cultures, Arendt went on a two-week trip to Uganda in the summer of 2011, staying with a missionary and his family.
“It was beautiful there, I loved it,” Arendt says. “The people there had no idea all the stuff they were missing out on in Western culture, [and] they didn’t care because they were happy.”
Her first day in Uganda, Arendt met a 3-year-old girl from one of the villages. Esther was severely underweight, and Arendt and the missionary took her to a hospital, which confirmed she had HIV. To get her to a healthy body weight, Esther was taken to a local orphanage where Ardent visited her nearly every day.
“For about a year after, I would get photos of Esther as she got to be this plump little baby,” Arendt says. “I was so excited the first time I got a photo, and it was just like, chunky thighs and just a healthy little baby.”
Her time in Uganda made Arendt resent the consumerism of American culture and prompted her to want to create change.
“I came back, and I was super pissed at Americans and really just disappointed in how greedy and materialistic people are over here,” she says. “I was talking to the mom [of the missionary family Arendt stayed with] and was just like, ‘What do I do?’ and she’s like, ‘Mindy, you can change things over there, you just have to do it.’”
So Arendt did.
After hearing about the EF4 tornado that struck Granbury in May 2013, Arendt and two of her friends, Kiara Hunter and her future husband, Charlie Hunter, organized a benefit in the parking lot of Lucky Lou’s to raise money for storm victims.
“It like 110 degrees outside [on Labor Day weekend], it was crazy hot, but we were able to raise $4,000,” Arendt says. “We held another [event] the next year, and both times had to cut them short because there was a thunderstorm coming. We’re like, ‘What the hell, Mother Nature?’”
But they kept going, and as they raised money for other causes, they organized Friends With Benefits.
For the past eight years, this organization has supported nonprofits around Denton County, providing birthday party supplies for children at Cumberland Presbyterian Children’s Home, hosting annual winter clothing drives for Our Daily Bread and supporting local artists and musicians through scholarships. But the Friends founders say what sets the group apart is its unique approach, aimed at creating a culture of fun in philanthropy. Born out of the Denton bar scene — and named by its founders over beers — the group sought to set themselves apart from other “uppity” nonprofits.
“From the start of Friends, we wanted to do it our way,” Kiara Hunter says. “A lot of our meetings happen over whiskey shots.”
Not even the pandemic …
Although Arendt embodies the fun-loving spirit of the group, it doesn’t slow her down. On top of her nonprofit work, Arendt is involved in freelance graphic design and no less than four side businesses: Southern Spiked Sweet Teas; Flipmail, which allows customers to “anonymously flip off a friend or foe”; a gig with her sister where she makes dog toys out of T-shirts; and the upcoming Karaoke Cruiser, which she’s starting with two business partners.
Despite the hardships 2020 delivered, Ardent remained focused on effecting change for others. She organized fundraisers for Crossroads Bar and Harvest House, raising a combined $4,500, and she created Soundbox Sessions in collaboration with Soundbox Musicworks, a twice-monthly livestream giving local artists a place to perform with bars shuttered.
Wanting to support service workers and local businesses hit hard by pandemic closures, Arendt also hosted a virtual talent show in July for members of her Facebook group, Rona Toxicated Denton, giving out over $3,000 in prizes.
Though Arendt revels in the bustle, her schedule can sometimes be daunting, leaving little time to spend with her husband, Ryan Feuerhelm, a middle school librarian whom she met while watching a Texas Rangers game at Lucky Lou’s in 2011.
“There’ll be some weeks where she has meeting after meeting after meeting,” Feuerhelm says. “But we always at least try to have dinner together.”
In July, when friend George Ferrie announced he would close his bar, Wine Squared, in what was the latest in a series of local business closures, Arendt sprang into action. Organizing an online fundraiser to help cover the costs of closing up shop, she raised over $12,000 for Ferrie, who hadn’t paid himself in four months in his efforts to keep the shop’s lights on.
Charlie Hunter has seen her commitment to helping others grow over the past several years.
He brought Arendt on as a volunteer to help with the annual Thin Line film festival in 2014. She quickly rose to vice president, although she would step down to care for her father. She was accepted into Communities Foundation of Texas’ Emerging Leaders in Philanthropy program in August, which helps members develop skills in nonprofit leadership, grant writing and community engagement.
“Mindy will get experience and get more efficient,” Charlie says, “and instead of having more downtime, she’s like, ‘I shaved off an hour, who can I give this hour to?’ and she will just fill that time with another thing.”
Winding down — sort of
It’s just before 5 p.m., and the shifting afternoon light in Arendt’s home office signals her work is almost done for the day. There will be dinner with her husband, and the occasional meeting with her nonprofits and friends.
But her frenetic pace slows a bit as she admires the keepsakes that matter most to her: a photo strip of her husband and her, pictures of Arendt laughing with loved ones, a handwritten note from a friend, Natalia, sending love. But no matter how full her calendar, Arendt’s friends say she shows the people in her life the same care as the causes she champions.
“Mindy’s that person who, if she thinks she heard an off thing in your voice, and thinks you might be having a bad day, she shows up at your front door and is like, ‘You sounded a little sad on the phone earlier, so I brought you a six-pack and some cookies,’” Charlie says. “She goes above and beyond.”