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Heart of gold, mind for business

When the Grade 1, 2, 3 class of Faro's Del Van Gorder school had massive amounts of leftover donations from the garage sale fundraiser for Japan, teacher Kirsten Ryan asked the eight students what they thought should be done with it all.

Eight-year-old Leo Chen has a big heart and, apparently, a budding business sense too.

When the Grade 1, 2, 3 class of Faro’s Del Van Gorder school had massive amounts of leftover donations from the garage sale fundraiser for Japan, teacher Kirsten Ryan asked the eight students what they thought should be done with it all.

“The kids had different ideas,” said Ryan. “They’re really passionate about the work that the Salvation Army does and so they wanted to give it to the Salvation Army, but then Leo piped up and said, ‘Maybe we should open a store.’”

Ryan let the idea percolate for about a week, as she tried to figure out the logistics.

“Because we have such a small population of students here at the school, in a facility that used to have triple, quadruple the amount of students, there’s a lot of additional space in the school,” said Ryan. “So our principal, I took the idea to him, and right away he said, ‘You know what, I think it’s a wonderful idea and I’m going to make sure we set aside a classroom for you guys,’ and he did just that.”

The kids jumped behind the project, even if it meant a lot of work had to be done.

“We had to move around tables - well Kirsten moved around the tables - and boxes and shelves and a lot of stuff,” said eight-year-old Kenneth Pickett. “It was a big job.”

But now, The Kids In Action Superstore will be rounding the corner into its third month of operations and the person behind it all couldn’t be more excited.

“We’re helping the Earth and we’re helping people,” said Leo.

It is the idea of recycling the goods and giving the proceeds to charity that really motivated the young boy, who emigrated with his parents from China when he was only seven.

“Six months ago, he couldn’t really form a sentence in English,” said Ryan. “So for him to be able to carry on a conversation and get his message across is really awesome. I am so proud of him.”

Leo has a passion for science and environmental stewardship. He researched and chose the World Wildlife Fund, and its work in preserving rainforests, as his first choice to receive store proceeds.

After every $25 the store brings in, another student gets to research and choose a new charity.

Already, The Kids In Action Superstore has contributed to the Food Bank Society of Whitehorse, the Humane Society, the Salvation Army, the Red Cross’ work in Japan, Africa and the Philippians, an aid organization that helps widows in Africa, called 1,000 classrooms, and the Slave Lake relief fund, among others.

The grand opening of the thrift store raised $200, Ryan said.

Currently the store is open on Wednesdays and Fridays during the noon to 1 p.m. lunch hour and on Sundays when another student-born, school business, the Kettle Cafe, is open from 2 to 4 p.m.

The five students in the Grade 4, 5, 6 class were eager to help out, so they share the responsibilities.

“Businesses take a while to get off the ground,” Ryan said, laughing. “We’ve been trying to promote the store in the community as much as possible and, certainly, the school community, and wider community, have responded. But it’s hard because we can’t keep regular store hours.”

“We get something free at the end of our shift,” said Kenneth. “It’s really cool.”

The store has “kitchen things, living things, books, toys, games, jewelry, candles, lots of stuff,” said Leo, “Everything.”

“Lots of things,” said Kenneth. “Sometimes we can’t even find things in there.”

And there is usually a steady stream of customers whenever the store is open, said Ryan.

“We, at the school, pride ourselves on the way that we emphasis things like experiential learning and the promotion of community,” said Ryan. “Community is a big word that comes up a lot. We really believe strongly in community and I think that the store, along with the Kettle Cafe, are just ways to further that kind of ideology.”

And the students are learning a great deal.

“They’re learning how to fully engage in a functioning economy,” said Ryan. “It’s really helped support their numerical development this year.

“I think they’re learning the meaning of global citizenship and what it means to be an active part of a global community of people that care about each other and about the environment.

“I think they’re learning that regardless of where you live in the world, regardless of your age, you can actually do something to make a big difference.”

For Leo, this was a way to turn his passion for the environment and animals into reality, said Ryan.

“It’s brought so much to his life, it’s made him feel that he really does have an important part to play here in Faro and in our classroom and in the wider school community. He did take a risk with something and he has taken a leadership role in something and the other students really look up to him for that.”

“I’m proud,” said Leo adding again that his favourite part of the whole thing is helping the Earth.

“Leo is a kind, considerate, caring, really just delightful individual,” said Ryan. “I feel very, very lucky to have him in my class. I believe that the idea came from his innate desire to give back to people and take care of people.”

Leo, who calls himself the “second boss” of the store, after Ryan, says he isn’t sure what he wants to be when he grows up.

“I’m still thinking,” he said.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at