Q&A with Mary Linda Dascal by Lucy Drinkwater, Providence Day School’s Institutional Advancement Fellow
On top of playing for the PD Tennis Team, working with the Freedom School, and serving on the Foundation Board, Mary Linda Dascal ‘24 started Beads for Needs, a non-profit organization. From glass beaded bracelets to resin earrings and trays, Dascal makes everything herself and uses 100% of the profits to buy and donate essential items to local children in need.
Q. Where did the idea for Beads for Needs come from?
A. I wanted to give back and help children, so I started Beads for Needs, which I started the summer before sixth grade. Before coming to Providence Day in fifth grade, I attended Sharon Elementary. I got my inspiration at Sharon Elementary because my mom worked with the Critical Care Committee there. As I watched my mom help provide basic needs for other students at my school, I became interested in what she was doing and wanted to contribute. She was a big part of getting me involved in giving back to children in the community and my inspiration to start Beads for Needs.
Q. What has been the overall effect of Beads for Needs on the local community?
A. I've raised money to support foundations by making jewelry, such as the Alexander Youth Network, Pat's Place, Foster Village Charlotte, and A Child’s Place. The foundations I support often revolve around underprivileged youth that may be homeless, abused, or have mental or behavioral health needs. 100% of my profits go to these local charities.
I try to avoid monetary donations. During COVID, there were a few times that I could not go into these places or had to give monetary donations, but I typically aim only to donate supplies. Once I have a substantial amount of earnings, I call these various foundations to get a list of their critical needs. Then, I shop to buy those specific items, such as personal items like shampoo and conditioner, or toys, such as balls or art supplies. Around the holidays, I also ask for Christmas Wishlists to provide those items to children in need.
Before COVID, I had a club at Providence Day where other students were involved in making, marketing, and selling the jewelry, so it was very integrated into the Providence Day Community. Also, I used to sell jewelry at different school events before COVID, which the PD community greatly supported.
Q. How has your role changed since you started Beads for Needs?
A. Since I started Beads for Needs in 6th grade, I have had to become more business savvy. For example, I have to invest more time to market my products and create an online presence. I also spent time looking at other companies on Etsy to see what they are doing to stay on top of trends and analyze how they are marketing and selling their products. Doing this has helped me business-wise, getting me to focus on the money I need to create my jewelry while also making a profit to donate. Also, once I have a profit, I have to research to ensure I get the maximum amount of supplies and products for my budget. I have learned that going to places such as Costco or Walmart will be more financially responsible for buying things for these children, rather than going somewhere that might be more expensive in order to help as many children as possible. I have also learned how to sell my jewelry on Instagram, which is an excellent resource outside of the local community, so I can make sales via Instagram messages rather than wait for the next event.
Q. What is your favorite part of Beads for Needs?
A. My favorite part of this work is when I get to go and make my donations, especially during the Holiday Season. Fulfilling a Christmas wish list for underprivileged children in my community is honestly so exciting. Many people take things, like having presents to open on Christmas morning for granted, but so many families can't buy gifts, and through Beads for Needs, I can ensure there are presents. There have been times that I have received thank you notes from families, and it really shows the positive effect of Beads for Needs. I often share pictures of my donations and tag the organizations I am supporting on the Beads for Needs Instagram page so my supporters can see exactly where the money is going and its effects on our community.
A big part of Beads for Needs is donating needed supplies, not money. When I donate specific items, I am able to create a personal connection with these families that is so much more meaningful than just giving money.
Q. What has been the hardest thing to handle when starting your own business?
A. The biggest challenge was COVID. I'd previously been selling with my club here at Providence Day and selling my products at various PD events, such as homecoming and sporting events; the PD Community has been an enormous part of Beads for Needs. Without the PD Community and lack of in-person events during COVID, it became challenging to sell my stuff. COVID made it impossible for me to sell my jewelry at community events.
But also, because of COVID, Beads for Needs had to evolve; I had to change my business tactics. I started to contact many local Charlotte boutiques to sell my jewelry–during the pandemic, I had a table in Swoozies where I had the opportunity to raise money and expand Beads for Needs! Before COVID, I only created string bracelets, but now I work with resin to make earrings, trays, and necklaces to keep up with the trends!
Q. What is something you weren’t expecting?
A. Obviously, COVID was unexpected, but I was able to expand Beads for Needs during this time. I also was not expecting the immense support from the Providence Day community. PD has constantly given me opportunities to sell my jewelry and raise money. Last year, I presented to Dr. James Edge’s Social Entrepreneurship class, where I talked about the evolution of Beads for Needs and how it has changed and grown since the start of the pandemic. I never thought I would guest lecture about Beads for Needs when I first started!
Q. Where do you see Beads for Needs going in the future?
A. I would love to continue Beads for Needs in the future. My time is a big obstacle because of all my school work and extracurricular activities, such as tennis and winter track. School comes first, so it is hard to plan for the future when I am balancing everything right now. Over the summer and holiday breaks, I try to get ahead and make lots of products. I definitely sell more during the summer, since I have more time. It's more challenging to run Beads for Needs during the school year. I still make donations throughout the school year and sell my jewelry, but I hope to continue to expand Beads for Needs in the future.
Q. What advice would you give other students trying to start their own business?
A. The advice I would give other students would be to go out there and do something they are really passionate about. If you are passionate about something and want to start a business, take the time to make it a reality. It might seem intimidating at first, but there are so many resources out there. You can research online or get in touch with people around PD, like Dr. Edge. Dr. Edge was so incredibly helpful and assisted me in many aspects of growing Beads for Needs, such as marketing and ensuring that my non-profit reflects my interests. So just make that jump and get started; you won't regret it.
To learn more about Mary Linda and Beads for Needs, click here!