OAKLAND -- Jin Mei Howell Young had a busy summer.
Over the past few months, the 10-year-old Thornhill Elementary student has begun a handmade leather pouch business and has organized a coat drive for disadvantaged youth.
With bright eyes and poise beyond her years, Howell Young articulately explained how she wants to make a difference in the world and how her endeavors really began at home.
The first seedling of entrepreneurship sprouted on a typical spring day at her grandmother's house. Howell Young remembered seeing a traditional Alaskan leather pouch that her grandmother had bought on a recent vacation.
Impressed by the simplicity and functionality of the bag, and having access to her father's leather scraps, she decided to make her own recycled leather pouches and sell them locally. Her father, Douglas Young, is a fire captain with the Santa Clara County Fire Department and also makes leather bags.
She began by giving them away at the Montclair Farmers Market with a recommended donation for the SPCA. Motivated by the $80 she raised, she approached the owner of Hatch, a Montclair Village store devoted to promoting a contemporary ecolifestyle, and pitched her pouches. Ashesh Patel, owner and founder of Hatch, remembers meeting the 10-year-old for the first time and being impressed.
"(She's) someone who's focused and knows what she wants to do, and as a young person, brought a great level of maturity," Patel said.
In August, Howell Young began a clothing drive she called to help disadvantaged youth. With the help of her father, she decorated bins, began a website (cozycoats4kids.com) and collected coats at various locations in Alameda and Santa Clara counties.
She said she got the idea for a coat drive after doing a school research project and learning that billions of children are living in poverty worldwide.
Her father, who has supported the project from the start, couldn't be prouder.
"It really blows me away to see someone this young take on a task like this. I'm very proud of her," Young said. "It really is an introspective experience for me -- I certainly wasn't doing this at her age. I think that if we can, as adults, honor and value what our kids are saying and doing, it would make the world a better place. I think we have collected over 150 coats already."
Howell Young said she just wants to help kids and she plans to take her message public as a National American Miss contestant. Ultimately, she hopes other people will be encouraged to get involved, to volunteer, and to realize that even small actions count.
"People feel if they donate one coat it doesn't make a difference. But if many people donate coats, it will make a difference," she said.
The coat drive ends Oct. 30, and the clothes will be distributed among foster children in the Bay Area, and maybe even overseas, if Howell Young has her way. Coats can be dropped off at various locations, including the Thornhill Coffee Shop, the Santa Clara County Fire Department, Peet's in Saratoga, and more. Check the website at cozycoats4kids.com for a complete listing of drop-off spots. The pouches can also be purchased at alohaleather.com.