It’s never too late to do something big. It’s never too early, either.
Typical kids spend untold summer hours watching television, networking on Facebook, playing video games and hanging at the mall, happily oblivious to the pressures of turning a buck.
But a few young people possess a beyond-their-years business savvy coupled with the rare desire to launch an early career or do their part to better the world.
Meet the neighborhood’s most enterprising youths — trust us, they are people you might want to know in the future.
Name: Courtney Roberts
Biz: Altruistic author of UH-OH! Animal book series
On a sunny Saturday morning, there are dozens of youngsters at the Dallas Zoo, but only one of them, presumably, is there on business. Blonde-haired, blue-eyed, cute-as-a-button Courtney Roberts, a fifth-grader at St. Patrick Catholic School in Lake Highlands, sets up at 8 a.m. right next to the giraffe feeding area.
The young author is here to sign her book, “UH-OH! Giraffe”, the second installment in the UH-OH! Animals series.
For the next two hours, children and adults wait in line for Courtney’s autograph and to hear her story.
She wrote the first book, “UH-OH! Cat” (colorfully illustrated by Jason Barnes) in 2009, when she was in third-grade. The book was a success, and its sales allowed Courtney to donate money to organizations that help animals, which is of utmost importance to her. The UH-OH! brand grew, and she began selling bracelets, speaking and reading to groups, and penning a second story about a hungry Giraffe.
At the zoo that morning, she sold more than 150 copies of “UH-OH! Giraffe” and UH-OH! Animal wristbands, available in the zoo’s gift shop, and she donated $1 from each sale to the Dallas Zoo Giants of the Savanna exhibit.
Immediately after wrapping up that appearance, Courtney’s parents drove her to Costco, where she has both a Saturday and Sunday book-signing.
The Costco event didn’t yield quite as many fans, dad Mike Roberts says, so Courtney had to work a little harder. Still, on her own, she managed to sell more than half of her inventory.
“She told us that adults at the table don’t help her selling,” Roberts says, “and she was right. We were very impressed by her spirit and initiative.”
It all started with a third-grade “power writing” assignment. Teacher Pam Suter, who has worked at St. Pat’s for 25 years, says Courtney proved particularly creative.
“The power writing assignments, and the type of writing we need to teach to prepare students for a future of research papers and standardized tests, is very structured,” Suter says, but Courtney was more interested in the story itself, and she came to Suter with ideas.
“I told her to build on what she knows.
“I am very proud of her. She has not only matured as a person but as a writer, too. I see that writer in her and think this is a huge base for her to build on in the future.”
At this point, Courtney isn’t sure if she wants to be a writer when she grows up or even if there will be another sequel.
“Everybody wants me to write a monkey story. But I just don’t have the idea yet,” she says. “I really don’t know what job I want to have … I like sports — soccer, basketball and horseback riding — and I think I might want to design sets on movies someday, so I really don’t know.”
For now she’s putting her profits in a bank account, she says, and enjoying the day-to-day adventures.
Info on the UH-OH! Animal project can be found at uhohanimals.com
Fashionista and philanthropist
Name: Truc Le
Biz: Keeper of Kawaii Online Shop
Petite 13-year-old Truc Le is into girly things — pop bands, pink bows and looking pretty. Her father, a Vietnam emigrant, helped her turn her fashion “obsession” (her own word) into something productive and potentially profitable.
In typical teenage fashion, Truc, an eighth-grader at Richardson ISDs Liberty Junior High (which partially serves Lake Highlands), has spent many hours aimlessly texting or chatting online. Observant dad Loi Le figured his daughter could make better use of her free time, so he helped her set up an online shop. The idea, he says, was not necessarily to turn a profit, but to teach his daughter a skill she could use later in life.
Once the store — Kawaii Online Shop (kawaiionlineshop.weebly.com) — was in place, it was up to her to create the business plan and write the website copy.
She wanted to sell things she and her peers enjoy — accessories, makeup and colored contact lenses that she wears, which are extremely popular with Asian girls, she says. She also offers advice on taking care of purchases, and she keeps a direct line of communication open with customers.
“I asked my friends at school what types of things they would buy, and based on that, I decided what I wanted to sell.” One of the first lessons she learned about retail, she says, is that “the more you buy of something, the less expensive it is.”
She sells at a fair price and includes a small shipping fee, which allows her to make a modest profit on each sale.
Her dad helped her buy the inventory in bulk. Even with his help, this process involved trial and error.
“We placed a couple orders that didn’t come out right or where we got items that were of poor quality. I want to feel good about the product I sell, and I want my customers to trust me,” she says.
So they kept trying until they got it right.
In addition to being a young fashion buyer, Truc is also a designer. She styles and sews (on a sewing machine that was a gift from dad) hair bows that she sells to girls at school and gives to friends as gifts. Soon, when she feels they are “good enough”, she will sell those in her virtual store, too.
Her father says he’s pleased with the discipline and responsibility she’s gaining from the project. There’s no room for slacking when it comes to a business like this, Truc says.
“When an order comes in, I usually respond to the customer on email and let them know that I will ship the order on the weekend. During the week it is difficult to ship orders because I have school and homework. But I always let them know what to expect.”
Though her online shop’s primary purpose was educational, Truc has earned about $300 profit in about three months. Of that, she donated $100 to victims of the Japanese tsunami.
“I have friends who live in Japan, and my favorite band is Japanese. I just wanted to help in any way I could.”
Through her business, she hopes to save enough money to travel to Japan and see the band she adores, the Japanese hard-rock group Gazette, perform live. What does dad think of that? She’s quite sure he will let her go if she earns the money.
When we bring it up to him, he doesn’t comment, but enjoys a short chuckle.
Teenager Truc Le peddles baubles, beauty supplies and other girly gifts at kawaiionlineshop.weebly.com.
Cheer camp CEOs
Name: Megan Jodie and Janie Tekell
Biz: Purveyors of pep
Little gals go gaga over Disney, TeenNick and American Idol personalities, but two Lake Highlands teens prove that it doesn’t take a multi-million dollar industry to capture the 6- to 12-year-old female market.
When high school juniors Megan Jodie and Janie Tekell show up to the final day of Twist and Shout Dance and Cheer Camp dressed in their respective Highlandette and Wildcat cheerleader uniforms, based on the campers’ reaction, one might think Taylor Swift herself had entered the room.
“The girls just love Megan and Janie, and when they come dressed in the uniforms and pose for photos with the kids, it’s like they are rock stars,” says Angela Ponce, who has two daughters, Hope and Haley, in the camp.
Three summers ago, Jodie (an LHHS Highlandette officer) and Tekell (the cheerleading captain and a member of the Wranglers dance team) opened the weeklong camp to girls entering first through sixth grades. They charge a fee of $95 per child. The camp is held at the Jodies’ home on Windy Hill from 9-11:30 a.m. during the last week of July.
A typical day, carefully mapped out by the high-schoolers, consists of learning dance and cheer routines, swimming and snacking. On the final day, campers put on a show for parents.
Hope Ponce, a third-grader at White Rock Elementary (and a seasoned three-year veteran of Twist and Shout) learns dance moves, memorizes routines and even helps out with teaching some of the younger girls, which is one of her favorite parts, she says.
“You have to memorize movements … it’s kind of hard, but fun.”
When their peers started getting summer jobs, Jodie and Tekell decided they liked the moneymaking aspect of a seasonal gig, but they had no desire to work all summer. With a little parental support, the Lake Highlands High School students with a combined 20-something years of dance and cheerleading experience organized and opened Twist and Shout.
“Other kids got jobs babysitting or bagging groceries, but we wanted to do something fun, and we both love working with kids,” Jodie says. “This way, we can make the money in a week and have the rest of the summer off.”
Tekell adds, “We went to a summer cheer and dance camp that we loved. A lot of our ideas came from that.”
Jodie and Tekell have earned about $1,000 each from each camp. It’s not easy money — they have to learn to balance a budget and organize the curriculum for 30 or so children and adolescent-age girls.
“We spend the week before camp shopping for snacks, water and supplies, and we had to learn to spend and ration wisely because the money we spend comes out of our earnings,” Tekell says.
“The campers are separated into age groups — sometimes the younger ones have trouble staying focused, but the older girls help out.”
They also hired freshman Highlandettes and cheerleaders, who are paid a small stipend for the week, to assist.
Both budding entrepreneurs have savings accounts for their earnings — Jodie says she has used the money for trips with the Highlandettes, and Tekell dips into her account for gas money and other incidentals, she says.
Happy customers say the idea works because it is well-run, takes place in the neighborhood, and is fun and meaningful for the little ones.
“My daughter sees these girls as role models, and they are great girls. She is excited to see what’s in store for her at a high school level. And even when she sees Megan and Janie out at a football game or somewhere, they recognize her and talk to her — it makes her feel so good,” Angela Ponce says.
Indeed, her daughter Hope says she wants to be a Highlandette someday, and she calls the camp leaders her “friends.”
Ponce says the camp is more economical than many summer cheerleading dance camps.
“And it is better — we’re here in the neighborhood. It’s more personal.”
This summer’s camp is over, but email firstname.lastname@example.org for a spot in the summer 2012 class.
Name: Aven Stewart
Aven Stewart makes intricate little collages and, sometimes, big paintings.
But those tend to be too time-consuming or too sentimental to sell. So the 13-year-old artist came up with a way to mass-produce art.
Stewart taught himself to carve and print linotypes, which he sells, along with handmade jewelry, on Etsy.com.
He carves an image into a block that is faced on one side with linoleum. Once the image is painstakingly carved, he rolls on ink and presses the design onto paper by hand.
It’s tricky because the image that winds up on the paper is a mirror of what’s on the block. The part he carves is negative space, the part of the picture that doesn’t get ink. If there are words, he carves the space around each letter to form it.
“It takes a lot of planning,” he says.
A big piece could take an hour or more to plan, and it could take six or eight hours to carve, he says.
He produces some of the linotypes in limited editions of 90, and he numbers and signs each one. So far, he has sold a few linotypes on Etsy for $8-$10 each. His goal is to raise enough money for a printing press, and the cheapest one he can find is $50.
Stewart, who just finished eighth-grade at the Spence Middle School T.A.G. academy, will attend Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts as a freshman.
His parents, David and DeAnn Stewart, are both artistically inclined, and so is their younger son, 10-year-old Liam. They say Aven has been practicing art since he was young.
“He works hard,” David Stewart says.
Aven isn’t sure whether he wants to be a professional artist because, he says, it’s tough to make a living. But he’s already learning things about the art market. He makes intricate collages for himself, and he makes pleasing images to sell.
“You’ve got to figure out what people like and adapt your art to what people will buy,” he says. n
Aven Stewart’s art is available on etsy at etsy.com/shop/aven134.