February 3, 2012

Bristol Students Cooking Up a Sweet Deal for Charity

Bristol Elementary School student Saleem Al-azawi is learning that making your dream come true takes a lot of hard work, as well as the help of friends. But the sixth grader, and a small group of fellow students and teachers, is definitely headed toward the sweet smell of success.

Chef Zach Lucchese gives the Bristol students a cooking lesson.
       He then invited them to his restaurant for a meal.

Saleem's dream is to build a playground for the young residents of Bristol Mobile Village, where the lack of playground equipment or athletic fields leaves children with little to do in their free time.


So Saleem and his CARES mentor developed a non-profit organization to raise funds for new playground equipment. Saleem and his chosen team have been busy since August setting up "Philanthropy on a Shoestring" and developing a business plan to bake and sell mini cupcakes and cake pops, which are  round cupcakes on a stick.


The cake pops, called POSSE Pops, will go on sale at Bristol Elementary School Feb. 5. Students will be able to purchase a cake pop to send to someone else on Valentine's Day.


The public can place orders for POSSE Pops by calling the school at 848-7421. Orders must be placed at least a week in advance.


The introductory price will be 25 cents per cake pop.

The POSSE Pops will also be on the menu at Lucchese's Italian Restaurant and Stone Soup Emporium in Bristol. Lucchese's will be offering the Black Raspberry Basil cake pop. Stone Soup will sell the POSSE Pop of the week.


Flavors that can be purchased at the school include chocolate mint, s'mores, caramel chocolate lime, coconut, chocolate peanut butter caramel, red velvet pomegranate, and strawberry.  a triple chocolate and toasted coconut gluten-free/vegan cake pop are also available by special order.

Recipes for the cake pops were created by the organization's dozen members, who had to learn how to bake and decorate the cupcakes. The young bakers were trained by one of the school's food service employees to ensure all food-handling health codes are followed.


Saleem, president of "Philanthropy on a Shoestring," said he picked the students for his team based on their individual abilities and what they could bring to the organization. Bernice Navarrette-Moreno, for example, loves to cook, so was an obvious choice to be lead baker. Matthew Whelchel, who is skilled at math, is the group's treasurer and is in charge of the financial aspects of the project.


Other group members include Hunter Smothers, vice-president, Evelin Calderon, secretary, Estefani Gomez, decoration designer, Emily Turner, resource officer, Veronica Love, photographer, and Joshua Roberts, critical analyst.

The entire group decided on the organization's title. "We started with nothing so that's how we got the Philanthropy 'on a shoestring,' Saleem explained. Evelin designed the team's logo, a gym shoe portraying a cupcake sliding ona shoestring, and Saleem said his ultimate goal is to get a sponsorship from a major shoe company.


Emily Turner and Xochitl Gallegos

roll out the pops
The group is looking for donations of new and used shoestrings to tie around their products. Shoestrings may be sent to or dropped off at the Bristol Elementary School office.

Saleem's CARES mentor described him as highly intelligent and motivated, explaining the pair created the organization as an outlet for Saleem's many abilities and interests. "I was looking for creative ways to inspire him to put his genius to work for a good cause," she explained. "I want to help him live up to his potential."

The pair began the project by writing grants to seek start-up funding for the charity. They received monetary support from the Bristol Business Council.

Saleem said he chose to sell cupcakes because everybody likes them and he knew Bernice is good at making them. "Cupcakes are easy to make a whole bunch at one time," he added. "And you can make them in different flavors."

   Bernice and Saleem coat the pops in various flavors of chocolate  

He started the group two weeks into the school year. Initially, he thought he would have the business up and running in a couple of months and the playground construction begun by the end of the school year.


He has since revised his timeline. He now understands how many issues there are in running a business. He has had to solicit funds for seed money, recruit volunteers, develop the product, find businesses to sell the product, and market the product. The group is also in the process of launching a Web site, www.possepops.org.  And that's all in addition to designing the playground, which they hope will be made of all recyclable materials.


Saleem's new goal is to have the cupcake business running smoothly by the end of the year, and have a groundbreaking for the playground in three years. "I want the entire project finished by the time Iím a sophomore," Saleem added.

All of the students have committed to giving at least 3 years to the effort. Their mentors plan to follow them when they transfer to Pierre Moran next fall.


Saleem recently began the interviewing process to select a group of Bristol fifth graders to continue the POSSE Pops business at Bristol Elementary when the sixth graders move on to middle school. 


Fifth-grade teacher Jason Hite, who is mentoring Hunter with the financial planning of the organization, said the students' work ethic and passion has been absolutely amazing. "You wouldn't expect kids to take the initiative to do something like this," Hite said.


Bernice, the baker, admitted when Saleem first told her about the project, she thought it was a crazy idea. "I never thought we would get this far," she said. "Now I see that if you just try, you can do anything."

   Saleem displays one of the Valentine's Day pops 


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