EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. — Ten-year-old Arianna Johnson and her best friend, Brooke Whiteford, age 11, used their love of making Rainbow Loom bracelets to not only raise money for Wounded Warriors, but their efforts have inspired a local entrepreneur and an Illinois state representative to support their cause.
The result is that the Dairy Queen of Edwardsville will be having a Wounded Warrior Weekend selling Wounded Warrior wristbands and also donating 15 percent of the weekend sales to the Wounded Warrior organization.
The idea all began when Brooke, the daughter of Wendy and James Whiteford of Edwardsville, and Arianna, the daughter of Karen and Dennis Johnson of Edwardsville, were together one night.
“Brooke spent the night over at my house, and she just kind of came up with the idea,” Arianna explained. “She’s like, 'Hey we should sell these Rainbow Loom bracelets to make money.' And I said, 'Yeah, we should do it for Wounded Warriors.'”
The girls had learned about the Wounded Warriors organization from their Columbus fifth grade teacher, Matt Maddox, who is a proponent of teaching today’s youth to honor U.S. veterans.
Every year, Maddox also brings in a state legislator to talk to his students about the process of creating a bill and making it an Illinois law. As part of that annual presentation, the students always brainstorm ideas that they could do to create a bill which would benefit the people of the state of Illinois. His past students have created bills to increase physical fitness in schools and the designation of Oct. 7 as Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Remembrance Day as a commemorative school holiday.
State Representative Dwight Kay had visited Maddox’s class recently for the annual governmental presentation which had the girls thinking. “Right when they got home from school they got out there Rainbow Looms and started making these bracelets, and they stayed up until five in the morning I think,” Karen said.
“We didn’t go to bed at all,” the girls said nearly in complete unison.
“It was like 18 hours straight or something I think, and that was the thing that gave me pause when they first started saying that they wanted to do this in mass production. I don’t think you can keep up this pace,” Karen added with a grin.
The girls made a pile of bracelets that night and sold their bracelets to friends, neighbors and family members and even chipped in $80 each of their own money. They raised a total of $290 in a matter of a few weeks.
Unbeknownst that all of this was happening at the girl’s homes, Maddox recalled when the girls came to school a couple of days after Christmas break. “They handed me a pink box and said, 'This is the money we’ve been raising for Wounded Warriors," and I was like, 'Huh?'" Maddox said puzzled. “They did it on their own and took initiative. I just think that’s so important. It was amazing.”
Impressed by their efforts, Maddox told Kay about what the girls had done. Kay then spoke about the girls' effort at an Edwardsville-Glen Carbon Chamber of Commerce Legislative Summit breakfast and suggested a wristband program could become an initiative of local businesses. At that time Kay made an initial purchase of 500 plastic wristbands that the girls would not need to make but that could be sold in support of the their cause.
Craig Kalogerou, owner of the Edwardsville Dairy Queen, was at the Chamber’s Legislative Summit breakfast, heard Kay speak, and also met Maddox who attended the event. “I heard the story and I was like blown away because it really makes me feel good when I hear these good stories – when young people get involved in the community,” Kalogerou said. “It kind of made me think back when I was young and I’d do the same thing for MDA. I’d go out and collect money for the Variety Club Telethon, and I’d be out there knocking on doors doing this stuff. When I heard this, I was like, “That’s impressive.” We always hear the bad things. We never hear good things anymore. And I said how can I get involved, and that’s when Matt said the (extra) bracelets were being made.”
As a result, Kalogerou is having a “Wounded Warrior Weekend” by selling the plastic Wounded Warrior wristbands for a $1 donation each this weekend, from 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, at his Edwardsville Dairy Queen located at 400 South Buchanan. Fifteen percent of all sales from the two days will be donated to the Wounded Warrior organization, and Kalogerou’s Edwardsville Dairy Queen will also be selling Wounded Warrior stars for $1 that they will be placing around the store. The Glen Carbon Dairy Queen is not part of this effort.
The plastic wristbands will be available in four different colors - red for Marines, green for the Army, blue for the Air Force and navy blue for the U.S. Navy.
The plastic wristbands will also be available for a donation of at least $1 at Walmart and Home Depot. Maddox added that several other Edwardsville/Glen Carbon area businesses were planning other Wounded Warrior events in the future.
“When I reached out to the Ed-Glen Chamber of Commerce, I was pleased that they were enthusiastic about the program,” Kay said in a release. “I am elated that we were able to take Brooke and Arianna’s wristband idea and bring the business community together for a common cause. The monies raised from these wristbands will go to a noble cause, helping veterans in need.”
“Brooke and Arianna are pretty much rock stars,” Maddox added.