Beads for Benevolence

Jan. 22-28, 2004
Beads for Benevolence
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
Fifth graders at St. Matthew’s School are open for business

EAST SYRACUSE –– When the fifth grade students at St. Matthew’s School had to learn the complicated concept of the free enterprise system and supply and demand in Social Studies class, teacher Mary Eschen not only taught the theory, but also put it into practice. And thus was born the St. Matthew’s School Beading Company. SMS Beading Company is a profit-making venture that involves all 27 students in Eschen’s fifth grade class. The students not only make jewelry to sell; they also have an advertising committee, a finance committee, a production staff and a secretary. Their business is booming. Since its opening on Dec. 3, the students have raised $140 by selling bracelets, necklaces and earrings at 25 cents each. The profits will be divided equally between the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the SPCA.

Eschen thought of the idea of making and selling jewelry to use up the boxes of beads that had been sitting in her closet for over three years. T C Timber Toy Manufacturer in Skaneateles donated the wooden beads. “Catholic Schools never turn down donations of any kind,” said principal, Sister Marianne Baehr, CSJ. At the start of the school year, Eschen thought of another way to use the beads. The children made necklaces that reflected their personality. The colors of the beads represented a different personality trait or interest –– green for reading, blue for boys, orange for friendship, yellow for writing, tan for sports, and so on. Purple beads indicated the child’s love for God.

After their initial jewelry project, the students improved upon the original design of using elastic string, which was costly and didn’t go far. Brian Ridley thought of replacing the flexible string with fishing line. “It’s cheaper, more durable and lasts longer,” he said. The students had to use longer string to ensure the necklaces fit over everyone’s head. “But that spool of fishing line is the original, and we haven’t run out yet,” said Brian, who holds the title of “official knot tier.” Some of the necklaces are fashioned with paper clips on the ends so that they can be clasped and unclasped. The advertising committee created flyers, posters and special order forms, the finance committee keeps track of the incoming funds and the production committee reviews the special orders book to determine demand for their products.

When the students opened for business, they had 34 items to sell. Students were lined up all the way down the hall and the SMS Beading Company sold out immediately. They quickly stepped up production and their business continues to thrive. “It wasn’t just a Christmas project,” said Eschen. “Business is ongoing and there is still a great demand. The children have been making jewelry at home to keep up.” Demand is so great that Chris Wigler had to cut off his sister from buying up all the stock. “She was buying too many and we had to fill other orders,” he said. “She was buying them to give to her friends who go to other schools and so that she would have a different piece of jewelry to wear every day. I had to cut her off for a few days.”

Connor Garris said that the fifth grade class had to put off their own special orders in order to fill the many orders received by students throughout the school. The class admitted that their customers can be demanding. “The jewelry has become so popular that customers come and knock on our door during science lab to see if their orders have been filled,” said Nicholas Smith. Eschen said that the beaded jewelry is popular with students in all grade levels –– from sixth grade right down to the pre-school. “The sixth grade boys are buying them for their mothers or ordering jewelry in Syracuse University colors or the colors of their favorite sports team,” she said.

The students have had a lot of donations of both supplies and time by staff members and family members. Nicole Russo said that her dad built the display stands out of leftover wood he had at home. The art teacher donated supplies and one parent made a donation to the Make-A-Wish Foundation on behalf of the class. The SMS Beading Company also stands behind their products. Any item that breaks is replaced for free. “One little girl’s bracelet kept breaking and breaking,” said Victoria Flynn. “And we kept replacing it. She always had a smile on her face when we did.” Nicole explained that if someone waited too long for their special order, they received a custom-made item for free. “Not only are we proud of our product, we have a lot of fun doing it,” she said.

All of the students are on bead patrol –– picking up all the beads they find on the floor and returning them to the boxes. “Catholic schools are also very frugal,” said Sister Marianne. When the SMS Beading Company wanted to come up with a catchy motto for its business, Brandon McIntyre remembered a popular commercial for the Turning Stone Casino. So they borrowed the phrase, “It’s all about the beads.”

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