The fellowship hall at Living Word Baptist Church was packed with students touting their wares on Wednesday afternoon — the cumulative work of a semester- long project in a junior entrepreneurship class at Under the Son Academy, a home-schooling co-op based in Forest.
Brightly decorated tables crowded the room, with 25 students representing their newly created businesses at the educational cooperative’s inaugural Christmas Marketplace. Families and friends of Under the Son Academy weaved through the tables, exchanging cash for a wide variety of products — ranging from baked goods to gently-used sports merchandise.
Bianca Ham, 11, had her operation down to a science.
Her table was tucked just inside the door, but you could smell her business from the hall: a “Christmas Spirit” hot chocolate bar. Festooned in a bright red turtleneck and pointy, green elf hat, Bianca walked her customers through the process.
For $2 they could fill out a slip of paper with their name and hot chocolate order, and she would have it ready right away — or, at the very least, within three minutes.
Metal carafes of hot chocolate lined the counter behind her, with candy canes, marshmallows and whipped cream to supplement the holiday drink.
Bianca said her lines had been long all day, but she was having a lot of fun. She decided to do a hot chocolate bar to set herself apart from the other businesses serving hot beverages.
“It’s going to be cold, let’s do hot chocolate,” Bianca said of her thought process. “I liked learning how to make it and learning from my mistakes.”
Lenaya Smith, instructor of the junior entrepreneurship class, said the students threw themselves into the project with a lot of excitement. Ranging from fourth to seventh grade, the 25 students in her class created 23 different businesses, along the way “practicing basic life skills that will help in the long run,” said Smith.
Under the Son Academy has about 300 students from the Lynchburg-area and 80 classes. Smith stressed the importance of getting home-schooled students together with other children, and letting them learn subjects from instructors with diverse experience.
Before the day was up, Smith said she expected to see about 400 people come through the marketplace.
Smith said the junior entrepreneurship class started from zero. The students created their idea, measured its feasibility and calculated the cost of production. They also learned how to turn a profit, time management and customer service.
“They’ve done all the work, I just had to teach them what to do,” Smith said.
Smith said she has 28 years of home-schooling experience. Four of her six children have graduated under her tutelage, and two are left in the co-op, which meets twice a week.
Students swarmed Ella Marlowe, 11, and Delanna Steele, 11, at their table. A paper banner boasted the name of their business: “Crazy Crafts: Crafts That are Out of this World.”
Their goods were spread across a red flannel tablecloth, and although they advertised a variety of items — like Christmas cards, soda-tab bracelets and cookies — it was the multi-colored, homemade “Slime” that was drawing a crowd.
With many varieties and colors, the girls fielded questions from potential customers. Slime changed hands quickly, and they restocked from a plastic bin under the table.
Ella said the the whole process was really fun, and Delanna said although they have a lot more to learn, the best advice was “to be nice to customers, and be a good person.”
Meanwhile, across the room, Caedmon Campbell, 10, was cornering the market in allergy-free goodies. His chocolate products boasted no peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, milk, wheat, soy, fish or shellfish. Caedmon has a severe dairy allergy, and said his business was accessible to everyone, unlike many stands that can be found at a traditional bake sale.
For some students, this entrepreneurial venture was just the beginning.
Jacob Parziale, 11, was manning a sports merchandise table along the back wall. Everything he had for sale, he has been collecting since he was little or was donated by family with sports jerseys and jackets to spare.
UVa merchandise, from T-shirts to plastic cups, lined the display, along with Lynchburg Hillcats paraphernalia, and items collected from Liberty University games. By 12:30 p.m. Jacob said he had made a good chunk of change so far, and held up his makeshift register to prove it.
Though this wasn’t his first money-making venture, Jacob said he would like to run a company in the future — granted, he wants to succeed in the NFL first. But a business, he said, would be a good back-up.