Local News

Boys & Girls Club makes detergent to raise funds

SEBRING - To the Highlands County Boys & Girls Club, "Grandma Betty" is "selfless" volunteer Betty Houck, who has been there for them every step of the way. It's also the name of a laundry detergent the group has launched in her name to teach kids about entrepreneurship and create a viable product that could help it keep its doors open. Alfonso James, who is the coordinator of the club's Junior Achievement program, helps make the detergent with three pure ingredients cooked in hot water. The kids have to first go through the course that teaches them the basics of creating and managing a successful start-up.
Then they help bottle and label the detergent and get a 50 cent commission for every gallon container they sell. While James' job is to place "nuggets" of information in the kids' brains so they can use it down the road, Boys & Girls Club's Executive Director Woodraun Wright is also hoping the detergent takes off commercially and becomes the club's financial salvation. "All of this stems from us thinking outside the box for all funding streams," Wright said. "We are creating various ways for the community to support us rather than us going (to them) with our hands out all the time." In about two years, the City of Sebring, which for years gave the club $50,000 a year, is scheduled to stop funding the group anymore. Wright said if the club does not come up with alternative funding, the danger of them shutting down is real. The club serves 300 kids, from elementary to high school, with afterschool programs in Avon Park and Sebring, tutoring, and life skills' courses like Junior Achievement. First they opened up their thrift store, called the emporium, in downtown Sebring. Now, they have been working to push their detergent, which they all use and swear by. James said it is hypo-allergenic, has no additives, and is great for babies, the elderly and those with sensitive skin. Wednesday, third-grader Destiny Milhouse, 9, and second-grader William Hill-Dunk, 8, were helping him put labels on containers they were planning to sell at an upcoming cornhole tournament fundraiser. They have both earned allowance money selling containers. What is the best part of the project? "We make it," said Hill-Dunk. "We get to sell it and make money," Milhouse grinned. The club's grants manager Carol Cecil said each gallon provides 32 full loads. A gallon container costs $6 and can be bought at the Boys & Girls Club Emporium, 205 Circle Park Drive, in downtown Sebring. The emporium is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and on special events such as the Downtown Sidewalk Sale and Destination Downtown. Cecil uses the detergent to wash all her clothes. And she has found that "you need no fabric softener." Because the detergent has little suds, it apparently works well in dish washers, too, as Wright found one day when he ran out of dishwashing liquid and used Grandma Betty's instead. And James, who once dropped some detergent on the floor and had to mop it off, found it does a good job cleaning floors, as well. The idea is the brainchild of Cecil's daughter and board member Dawn Balsamo, who found a "true and tried" recipe for the detergent and pitched it to the board. First Balsamo and Cecil tried it out, liked the results and then the club took on the project. Wright, who remembers skeptically shaking his head when he first heard about it, is now trying to get the product licensed so they can sell it in stores. A couple of county motels and a laundromat were interested in selling the product in their vending machines, but the club found it would not be cost-effective right now because of the packaging cost and because Grandma Betty's is not powdered. Encouraged by the overtures, though, Wright and James are dreaming big. Wright is hoping to see Grandma Betty's on store shelves nationwide in 10 years while James wants to bring the program to every Boys & Girls Club in the country. "The whole concept of kids being able to sell is a beautiful thing," James declared.

pagarwal@highlandstoday.com (863) 386-5831