Student helps others through sewing

Centennial Elementary fifth-grade student, Riley Locke, likes many of the things other 11-year-olds do, and when you ask her about her favorite hobbies, the list goes on and on. Riley likes art, skiing, mountain biking, camping and crafts, and she loves math and science. She also plays piano and organ, and loves to be outside and spend time with her friends.

But this quiet fifth-grader also has a passion for helping others, which she does using the sewing skills she taught herself by watching YouTube videos.

It started during the summer of 2019, when Riley and her brother Matthew had a lemonade stand and made $200. They decided to spend their money to buy toys for children in a safe house, and Riley says she learned from that experience how rewarding it is to help others. When COVID made it so they couldn’t repeat their lemonade stand success the following spring, Riley says she knew she had to come up with another plan.

Riley had learned to sew making superhero capes with her dad. She enjoyed sewing, so she started watching YouTube videos about how to make hair scrunchies. She was originally going to make the accessories for herself and her friends, when it dawned on her that this might be the perfect opportunity to help others.

“I realized, this is what I can do to help some kids that might need some cheering up,” Riley says.

Using some old t-shirts and hair bands, Riley made several scrunchies, which she offered to her family and friends for $2 each. In no time, she was out of inventory, and her mom took her to the craft store to get more fabric and hair ties.

“I just started sewing them,” Riley explains, and said that within months, she had sold more scrunchies than she ever expected. That’s when she learned about the patients at Children’s Hospital in Aurora.

“I thought about how hard it would be to be a kid in the hospital and not be able to have visitors or friends, so I wanted to buy toys to maybe make their stay more enjoyable,” Riley says. She took the money she had made and bought toys, books, art kits and Lego sets, and delivered them to the hospital.

Since then, she has made two more deliveries to the hospital, spending more than $1500 on donations for patients, primarily in the oncology ward, but other areas as well. Riley says she has fun choosing and buying toys, many of which come from wish lists provided by the hospital. She hasn’t gotten to meet any of the recipients of her generosity, but she hopes one day she will be able to.

“It makes me happy to help people that are having a rougher time than I am,” Riley says.

Although in the beginning her parents covered the cost of her materials, Riley said her little nonprofit is now covering its own costs, and recently even received a $250 grant from Thrivent to help pay for supplies. Though she doesn’t consider what she does to be a business, she does have her own business cards, and uses the name “Riley’s Scrunchies.”

Centennial Elementary Principal Carmen Polka says “Riley is a student who puts forth her best every day. She had this small idea that became a big idea. She understands the complexities of running a business to help others.”

Carmen says that, despite Riley’s remarkable generosity and work ethic, the fifth-grader doesn’t brag about what she has accomplished. “Riley is a silent leader. She has that strong presence, and is someone in the classroom making good choices and setting an example.”

For Riley, that means reaching out to others who could use extra help or a kind gesture, and she knows that’s something she wants to do for the rest of her life.

“I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up, but I know I want to help people however I can.”

Riley’s scrunchies are available for purchase locally, and 100 percent of her profits go toward her donations. Contact us at [email protected] for more information.