BALTIMORE — Nylah Burton isn't the first teenager to start a lemonade stand with friends. But unlike many other lemonade entrepreneurs, she spent the profits on other teens and children she has never met.
As a home-schooled student, Burton received an assignment from her mother in 11th grade to propose a community service project. She had many ideas for large, complicated problems she would like to solve, but she wanted to take on a cause where she could make an immediate difference.
"My mom had said something about foster kids, and she said something about seeing them with black trash bags," said Burton. "I thought that was really sad."
When she looked into the issue, Burton found that when social services responds to a call about a child in need of foster care, social workers are rarely able to provide any necessities for the children on the first night of care. The children have to resort to their own belongings, which usually amount to very little, and often do not include a suitcase or bag.
Many have been neglected, as well, so they are hungry.
"They pick up the kids in the middle of the night and a lot of times they're injured, they're starving . they just need so much," Burton said.
So she decided, "I could make a bag for that first night they're picked up."
She came up with the idea just in time for her home school deadline, naming her organization Traveling Grace. With donations from her mother and other family members, she started creating care packages in January and made her first donation to the Prince George's County Department of Social Services on March 8.
Then, she worked with friends to start a lemonade stand at school, raising more than $200 for Traveling Grace to create more care packages. She has donated about 30 bags to social services in Maryland — each containing toiletries, a non-perishable meal, clothing, a towel, a Bible, a journal and a few notes of encouragement from children and adults in the area.
Burton said she started her first business about four years ago, when she was 13 years old and in ninth grade.
One of Burton's ninth-grade assignments was to create a business plan. She came up with Jerk Mania, a catering company serving homemade jerk chicken and side dishes, and she put it into action.
"It got really popular and people really loved it," said Burton, who would cater events for members of her large extended family as well as family friends. She has continued to work on Jerk Mania, but has decreased her event load to focus on Traveling Grace.
Burton has been working toward raising money and collecting items from the community so that she can keep her project going. She is in the process of working with friends to come up with a campaign on crowd funding site IndieGoGo.
Burton has not been allowed to follow up with the recipients of her bags because of social services rules.
"I would love to talk to someone who received one to see how they liked it," she said. "I'm not exactly sure how they would react to it because I've never been in that situation before."
Her goal, she said, is to give the recipients the same quality of items that she would appreciate. Eventually, she may begin creating different bags for foster children transitioning into college or the workforce, as well as bags for teen mothers in the foster system.
As for her own dreams, Burton will be a senior in the fall, and is planning to apply to colleges. She said her first choice is the University of Maryland, College Park, and she's interested in becoming a lawyer.
Information from: The Daily Record of Baltimore, http://www.mddailyrecord.com