Abby Neff, 17, of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, a junior at Lutheran High School of Sioux Falls, has provided more than 25,000 recycled crayons and other art and educational materials to an estimated 10,000 children in need in 46 states and overseas. While volunteering as a teen teacher at an after-school program for low-income youth, Abby saw how excited the children were to do art projects. When they ran out of time, “I would tell them to just finish it at home,” Abby said. Then she learned that many of her students couldn’t finish their projects because they didn’t have crayons at home. “My heart hurt, so I decided to make sure that all of these kids in the program had adequate art supplies,” she said. That was the genesis of her “Recycled Rainbows” nonprofit organization.
Abby recalled that many restaurants provide small boxes of crayons to keep youngsters busy while their families eat, and then throw them away. So she called local restaurants and within a few weeks, she had a number of eateries saving their used crayons for her. Abby also created a website and addressed community groups to ask for donations of old crayons. With the help of her younger sister, she sanitized, dried, melted and then remolded the crayons into shapes such as animals, flowers and even robots. She then offered her recycled crayons to hospitals, Boys and Girls Clubs, park programs, and other nonprofit organizations that serve children in need. In addition to her crayons, Abby assembled more than 300 bags filled with science, math, art, reading and technology/engineering activities for children. She also sold her crayons to the public in order to donate the proceeds to charities that focus on art and the environment, and she speaks at schools about recycling and the importance of dreaming big to change the world.