At just 15 and 12 years old, Abby and Riley Neff recognize the importance of the arts. “The arts are like a bridge,” said Abby. “They bring people together.”
So when the girls realized that many kids in their community of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, didn’t have access to simple art supplies, they set out to find a solution. They thought of the most basic craft supply – crayons.
“We went to restaurants and asked what they did with their used crayons,” said Riley. “Most just threw them away, so we asked if we could have them.”
And that’s how Recycled Rainbows was born. Abby and Riley now collect crayons from local restaurants, community members, churches and museums every 2-3 weeks. They take them home, peel off the wrappers, melt the crayons down and pour them into molds to create new ones.
“When we started we didn’t really know what we were doing,” Riley said. “We used old pots to melt them down and poured them into a couple of silicone molds and started popping them out.”
What started as a small project in their kitchen has now grown and expanded into their garage. To date, they have made and donated 15,000 crayons and are expanding with local partnerships like their local Boys & Girls Club and different schools in the area.
“We work with the Boys & Girls Club to collect their old crayons, recycle them and bring them back as new crayons,” said Riley. “One time we made car-shaped crayons and when we handed them out the boys were so excited!”
Abby loves seeing the excitement of other kids when they get art supplies they might not have had. “I’ve been in a couple situations where I got to work one-on-one with kids who don’t have access to art supplies,” she said. “When they get the crayons, it gives them a light in their life.”
The girls recognize that art should be accessible to all, so they partnered with a local all-abilities learning center called Life Scape and created multiple sizes and shapes of crayons so everyone could participate. When they arrived to donate the crayons, they saw how small the Life Scape art supply closet was; so they sold $100 worth of crayons locally and used the money to buy more art supplies for the center.
In addition to recycling crayons to promote the arts, Abby and Riley realize they can make an even bigger impact working with local schools. Recently, the girls visited a Title 1 school and did a presentation on the importance of recycling, then handed out crayons and a coloring book to each student to take home over winter break. They’ll also be making another recycling presentation around Earth Day.
Abby has also created Recycled Rainbows SMART bags – which stands for Science, Math, Art, Reading and Technology. Each bag has one item from each of the five categories, and they are given out to low-income students to help them stay engaged and stop the learning lapse that can occur over the summer.
“I want to break the cycle of poverty and help kids stay engaged and inspired to learn,” Abby said.
The girls said that keeping up with Recycled Rainbows is a lot of work, but it’s all worth it when they see how happy it makes other people.
They also encourage other kids to get involved. “Find something that you love and spread it around to other people,” Abby said.
For project ideas for kids and teens to get involved, visit generationOn, the youth division of Points of Light.