Chloe Bellomy '12 Johnson Opportunity Grant Winner Creates ABC's for Change

Chloe Bellomy is an English major with a minor in creative writing from Santa Barbara, Ca. She applied for a Johnson Opportunity Grant to spend her summer as an intern with Independent Education, an educational non-profit in Washington, D.C., while also pursuing an education fund-raising start-up called ABC's for Change.

The Johnson Grant has allowed me to spend the summer in Washington D.C., gaining experience at an educational non-profit and expanding my own idea for a company that has been five years in the making.

I've spent the past three years jumping from one possible career option to another, as I imagine many students have. I've always known that I loved writing and books--from the day my father pasted the giant letters of the alphabet on my bedroom wall, it's been a passion. The summer after freshman year I worked for a literary agency in New York. I enjoyed the work and continually found myself drawn to the creative manuscripts for children and young adults. Early in my sophomore year I wrote a term paper on the benefits of educational media, focusing specifically on shows like Blue's Clues, the Leap Frog game series, and books used in classrooms. It was then that I truly began to realize a way to combine my interests in literature and child development

As a high school student I had once written an ABC poem called "D is for Diversity," the idea sparked by my younger sister asking what the word meant. My family encouraged the project and suggested it might make a good children's book, my father adding that I could recruit children to create colorful illustrations for it. We continued to throw the idea around, but it wasn't until my sophomore year at W&L that I revisited the poem with a renewed desire to follow through with the idea.

I was excited about pursuing a project where I could combine my love of writing with my new found interests in early education. Meanwhile, I continued to hear reports of funding cuts to education, and witnessed the effects first hand as my old elementary school cut its art program. As I thought back to my days of selling candy bars, wrapping paper and scented candles door-to-door (and to my parents groans as they delivered the useless wares), it struck me that schools should be able to raise money in a more productive and meaningful way. Other events like school fairs were often successful, but also at the cost of massive time commitments from parents and teachers outside of normal class time.

The idea for a fund-raising company began to emerge, and over winter break of that year I visited my youngest sister's elementary Montessori school in South Carolina. The lower and upper elementary classes agreed to help me test the concept, and each student began illustrating one letter from the poem. While that first book didn't raise as much money as we'd hoped, it highlighted roadblocks and helped me refine my business plan. The response from teachers and parents was also very encouraging, and strengthened my conviction that a fund-raiser that complimented students' experience and worked with teachers' curriculums could succeed.

Last summer I officially registered ABCs for Change, LLC and created the initial website. Over the past year I've finalized a business plan and brainstormed further ABC books (covering topics like "Green" living, the countries of the world, art history and ecosystems, all in child-friendly language) and other fundraising products I could add to the model. The concept is meant to be simple, and radically different from the approaches of other fund-raising companies. Schools pay a $75 fee up front, which covers all of the materials and services they receive. Their initial packet includes a booklet outlining the process and tips for creating and selling their book, the text of the fundraising book they selected and its accompanying classroom guide, which includes ideas for incorporating the book into classroom activities and ideas for other fund-raising events that compliment the book's topic. The school has only to assign students a letter then submit the finished illustrations, by mail or e-mail. ABCs For Change covers the rest of the process--everything from assembling the artwork into a full-color, professionally bound book to contacting the school's local news organizations to spread word of the school's fund-raiser. The school receives a promotional kit, including digital versions of flyers, advertising emails and letters personalized with their school's information. The book is available for purchase online, can be bought with a credit card, and ships directly to the customer's door. Because I am using a Print-on-Demand supplier, schools aren't required to pay anything for books purchased, and receive their profit at the end of each month. Unlike other fundraising companies where schools receive only a small percentage of the money they raise, the school will receive about 42% of the book's selling price, almost $8.50 per $20 book. Another $7 covers printing costs, and the rest goes back into the company to cover upkeep, time, and expansion.

I've spent this summer finalizing the company and am hoping to be ready to launch an email ad campaign in the fall. I've launched a new website with a logo and color scheme, created the emails I'll need to reach out to schools and encourage them to sign up, created all the materials a school will need, including the "Getting Started" booklet, classroom guides, and promotional kit, and created a list of eight fundraising titles schools can choose from. I've also had to tackle some of the concept's initial issues, like finding a printer with low enough costs to make the endeavor worthwhile. Finally, I've been working part-time for Independent Education, a non-profit that represents 85 independent schools in the D.C. area and offers them resources like professional development conferences, research, policy advocacy and cost-cutting services. The internship has been an ideal opportunity to see the needs of elementary schools first hand. I attended their Summer Development Conference and heard industry leaders speak about current fund-raising issues and ideas. I've also made connections that I hope will lead to relationships with possible client schools in the future.

I'm certain that there are many challenges yet to come, but I truly believe that ABCs for Change will offer schools a much needed service, and effectively combine their fund-raising and educational goals. This summer has allowed me to do work I'm truly passionate about, and finally begin to realize an idea that sparked my interest five years ago.