It started with three preteen friends and a notion to build “bath bombs.”
Alyssa Bachman, Savannah Kaus and Sarah Stejskal wanted to sell them and donate their proceeds to the Nebraska Humane Society.
“We all just love animals so much,” Alyssa said, “and they can always use the money.”
The girls spend lots of time after school and during the summer with Alyssa’s grandmother, Omaha pharmacist Vicki Sunderman, and they were looking for things to do when the idea was born.
For the uninitiated, a bath bomb is a fragrant, fizzy concoction of citric acid, bicarbonate of soda and essential oils.
“The girls were looking for something that would be useful without a lot of ingredients,” Sunderman said.
But what a mess, she thought. She tried to steer them in another direction. A crafter herself, she has bundles of materials: paint, mini pompoms, jewelry, glass bottles in various sizes.
Hey, what about those bottles? The girls — all 11-year-old students at Kiewit Middle School — went back to the web for ideas, and decided to repurpose them into vases and other decorations.
Then Upcycle Kids became a thing. They created an email address — email@example.com — and printed business cards: “Will take orders,” they say. They began building a fairly extensive inventory of items reusing wine bottles, pickle jars, even baby food containers. And they bought space at the huge Millard West High School craft fair earlier this fall.
Sunderman is involved as an adviser and investor, but they do the work themselves.
“I wanted them to know it wasn’t something that grandma was just going to do,” she said. “I wanted them to learn.”
They had some other help along the way. Chris Kendall, Sunderman’s co-worker at the Elkhorn Walgreen’s, found someone online who had 100 free bottles and went to pick them up.
The kids have painted the bottles and wrapped them with jute. They’ve decorated the outsides with beads, cloth flowers, jewels and other items they’ve found in Sunderman’s stash: a shell necklace, part of a broken bracelet, magazine pages. They filled them with twinkly lights and colored sand.
“We just quit throwing things away,” Sunderman said. “They’ve been going through all my stuff, and everything they would see they would try to make something.”
One of their most unusual pieces is a bottle that sits on its side. They put a toy car inside and tied a dollhouse-size Christmas tree on the top, then surrounded it with fake snow.
“It took a couple of tries to get the car in,” Alyssa said.
They work in a dedicated craft room in Sunderman’s basement, cluttered with anything they think they might need. One table is set aside just for gluing. Bottles of all shapes and sizes are in boxes on the floor.
“A lot of times we don’t really plan what we’re going to do, we just kind of hop into it,” Alyssa said.
In addition to crafting, the girls also are learning about the money side of the endeavor. They know they have to reimburse Sunderman for her investments, so they’ve gotten good at finding bargains at craft stores. All three of them took shifts at the daylong Millard West craft fair, greeting customers, pushing the merchandise, making change and finding boxes and bags for purchases.
After expenses, they made $250 at the fair, including coins and bills from a donation box for the Humane Society.
“Somebody dropped in a $20 bill, so we were excited about that,” Sunderman said.
They delivered their gift a couple of weeks ago.
“Kids who help are just great,” said Pam Wiese, spokeswoman for the Nebraska Humane Society. “We love all of our supporters, but the youngsters who are so full of energy and are so willing to give of their time and talents hold a special place in our hearts.”
The Upcycle Kids crew won’t stop at one craft fair, although each girl has been busy with sports and other activities this fall. They hope to sign up for another fair in the spring, perhaps supporting a new charity each year.
“So we can donate to a lot of different places and a lot of different people,” Savannah said. “Maybe cancer; a friend of my mom from the gym died of it last year.”
Or the hungry and homeless, Alyssa said: “That always makes me sad.”
They’re also aware that their business model helps the world. They embraced upcycling because they’re worried about pollution.
“It’s always good to benefit the environment,” Alyssa said.