ONEONTA, NY-- Broken crayons are the inspiration behind the Great Crayon Project, an Oneonta business that's giving people with developmental disabilities a chance to earn their own paycheck.
Megan Tannenbaum, an Oneonta mother of three, started The Great Crayon Project out of her home in March. The business began as a simple solution to help reuse crayons instead of placing them in the trash, where they could eventually end up in a landfill.
"My daughter's classroom last year was throwing away a box of crayons and I happened to see it when I came in the room," she said. "I said 'oh we've been melting crayons at home, let me take it, I'll melt it down and give it back to you.' This year my daughter is in kindergarten same thing happens... this time I put a little tag on it, it's like 'oh it's a Great Crayon Project isn't this cute?'"
The 'cute' project sparked another bright idea.
"We either donate them to kid-friendly organizations to promote art and creativity, we exchange them in the schools for more broken crayons, or sell them," she said. "Once the cost of the project is covered any profits are going to buy school supplies for kids."
But after hours of peeling, melting and packing the new crayons, Tannenbaum decided to enlist some help from the Arc Otsego.
"For us it's brought a job that offers something different, which is always what we're looking to do," said Erin Seeley, director of employment services at the Arc. "We're looking to provide different opportunities for people and allow people to gain different skills sets."
Each month workers peel about 10 pounds worth of crayons, then Tannenbaum picks up the unwrapped crayons for the next stage of the project. The crayons are then sorted into dark and light colors and placed into molds. The new rainbow crayons come in many different forms, from symbols, animal shapes to dog prints, even letters of the alphabet.
Seeley said many of the workers are happy to help.
Heather Worden, an employee with the Arc Otsego, who peels the crayons, said she enjoys it.
"It feels really good, because once I am at task I do it," she said.
David Izzillo, who also helps with the peeling process, mentioned that he takes pride in doing something that benefits others. But offered advice for anyone else willing to take up the task.
"You've got to have finger nails."
The Arc even tested several different methods to streamline the process. They started soaking the crayons in warm water to get the paper off more easily, but Seelely said it made the crayons too soggy. They tried freezing the crayons too, but eventually decided to use a clothing steamer. The crayons are placed into a box, the steamer is used for about 30 seconds, which then allows the paper to come off more easily.
In the past four months the project has donated more than 2,000 crayons. The new rainbow colored crayons are donated to local literacy groups, libraries and children's hospitals among other organizations that benefit children.
For more information visit: www.facebook.com/thegreatcrayonproject