Whether trying a new sport, learning to play an instrument or attempting to master a new hobby, skills acquired when you’re young often help set a trajectory for the future and even careers.
In August, when Brookfield moms Ann Heinl and Phyllis Kastle were discussing ways to provide opportunities for kids to turn their passions into avenues for entrepreneurship, they agreed to find a way to make it happen.
“At Brook Park School, they did a project in the fourth grade where they had to come up with a business marketplace, and we figured, ‘Why not try that on a bigger scale?’” Kastle said.
So in tandem with fellow members of the Brookfield Women’s Club, Heinl and Kastle launched the Youth Entrepreneurs Market on Nov. 6, aimed at providing kids in grades 4-12 the chance to perfect a hobby and turn it into a learning lesson on civics, economics and self-confidence.
At the market, 45 kids from Brookfield, LaGrange Park, Riverside, Westchester and Berwyn set up shop at The Compassion Factory, 9210 Broadway Ave., with offerings ranging from jewelry, crocheted items, bakery, artwork and even a home landscaping business.
“We know kids are creative and can make things, but they don’t necessarily have a way to sell their things — they don’t have an Etsy shop or other opportunities,” Heinl said. “When we proposed [the idea] to the Women’s Club, people got excited because of the community aspect and the fact you can see the impact to kids.”
As school began this fall, Heinl and Kastle put out a call for participants, reaching out to area schools and advertising the opportunity for kids to enter, either working by themselves or with a partner to sell a good or service.
“We had a philosophy that we want this to be a kid-led business,” Heinl said, “but that being said, we do know kids need the help and support of their parents. We had a meeting ahead of time so that families could see the space and logistics, and we gave them tip sheets on how to price things, cost of supplies and encouraged kids to look at Etsy and other craft fairs and determine what to charge.”
The women set up a nominal $10 entry fee so that, in their words, kids would have an investment in the opportunity. The Women’s Club also offered a mentor opportunity during the application process, providing tips and assistance on table setting, pricing and questions about gauging inventory.
With goods sold between $1 and $5 for small items and $10 and $20 for larger ones, kids practiced marketing pitches, interacting with new people and handling business transactions.
Nine-year-old Beatrix Duner of Brookfield, who first started making her own tie-dyed clothing and accessories over the summer, said the decision to participate in the youth market was a no-brainer.
“My mom participates in the Brookfield Farmers Market, and I also started selling my bags there and I found it really fun, so I wanted to see how I would sell on my own,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot of people that I already knew and also met new people.”
Caroline Busch, 14, who first began making her own polymer clay earrings over the summer, also jumped at the opportunity to learn more about consumer economics.
“I heard about the event through my friend, and I thought it would be a really cool idea,” the Brookfield resident said. “I’ve sold over half of my inventory, and I think programs like this are super important because you get to connect with the people in your community and learn how to be a good entrepreneur at a young age.”
And for 11-year-old Brookfield resident Alma Mata, the market was a good chance to not only showcase her talents, but also break out of her shell.
“I’ve met a lot of new people and it’s definitely teaching me social skills — I used to be really shy,” said Mata, whose sale consisted of Christmas ornaments, hot chocolate bombs and other hand-crafted chocolate novelties.
Both Heinl and Kastle said that based on the positive reception from participants and shoppers, they are hopeful in relaunching the market next year.
“To give kids the chance to experience coming up with an idea, putting in the work, having a game plan and getting to see it through as a success in real life means a lot, especially when the community is coming together,” Kastle said. “It’s been fun to see the kids set goals, work towards those goals and achieve them.”