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Karri Bean - Kids are Amazing Inventors!

On my first day of work at Hasbro at the Games Group in East Longmeadow, MA, I’ll never forget walking up the stairs and seeing the images of Twister, Connect 4, Jenga, Monopoly, all the games I LOVED as a kid, painted on the hallowed halls of one of the biggest toy companies in the world…and I could not believe I was lucky enough to be actually working there! I had asked myself many times in my career, “Why didn’t you think of this industry sooner??”

As a kid, I honestly never had a thought that people actually made toys…blame it on Santa Claus, blame it being geographically challenged (I grew up in a small town in Vermont) but I just even gave the toy industry a thought until I was *cough* in my thirties, starting a job at Hasbro!

Fast forward to 2018, I was asked to be a judge at the Chicago Toy and Game Fair Young Inventor Challenge. Kids from all over the world were submitting their toy and game ideas into the challenge and I was blown away by the creativity, ingenuity, tenacity and innovation of these kids! The ideas were as good as ideas I had seen come out of professional inventors and product designers over the years! It was so much fun to be a part of their hopes and their dreams.

After the Fair, I thought back on my first day at Hasbro and I have always wished that someone had told me as a kid that I could work in the toy industry…and you don’t have to be a gifted inventor or designer to work in this industry, you can do anything!! Finance, Law, Marketing, Analytics, graphic design, engineering, the list goes on and on and on… how could I get the word out there to kids that this fabulous opportunity exists for them?

At a Santa Clarita Chamber of Commerce event in early 2019, I ran into the CEO of our local Boys and Girls Club and that chance meeting got my wheels turning…The Boys and Girls Club is a perfect way to reach kids who may be just like I was – totally oblivious to toy industry! I’m sure they play with toys - - but had they ever thought they could make as well? If they were like me, probably not!!

Now, I’m going to admit this to you…so please don’t tell anyone…I have never been big on volunteering. Just not my thing. It’s fun in the moment, but to be honest it was just something I wasn’t always driven to do. We all need to embrace our strengths and weaknesses….so I thought my strengths are a passion for this industry and creating a plan to achieve a goal. So I approached my new contacts at The Boys and Girls Club and presented the idea of creating a Young Inventors Challenge for the kids at the club to learn about inventing and creating toys and games which would ultimately be submitted to the Young Inventors Challenge at CHITAG in November of 2019. The club enthusiastically bought into the program and we pitched the ideas to about 150 kids at the larger club in Santa Clarita. If you ever get a chance to present what your job is in the toy industry and the toys/games you help to create to a bunch of kids DO IT! They will make you feel like a rock star! They see these toys and games that they have played with or know about and they go bananas!

Ultimately we had about 15 kids sign up – which was really scary cause I was one person and how was I going to manage so many kids?! I started the program in July of 2019 and met with the kids for 1 hour each week at the Boys and Girls Club. The idea was that we would go through the different design stages each week and I would bring in a guest speaker from the industry to talk to the kids about their jobs, what they do and help me mentor the kids. Each kid got a Star Wars notebook and buckled down to start inventing. The results were nothing short of amazing! Everyone I asked in the industry to come and speak were more than happy to help out. The kids loved hearing about all the different products everyone has worked on and it really inspired them in their creativity. After a few weeks the club thinned out a bit and I ended up with 10 kids consistently which was manageable.

The boys and girls club faculty members were an amazing help! They had rooms set aside for us, supplies and even 3D printers! I had a HUGE amount of help from the Education Coordinator, Megan Martindelcampo, “Having Karri join us at The Boys and Girls Club enlightened our members. The children discovered the Toy Industry holds an endless realm of possibilities for their future careers. Karri utilized her connections and brought in her peers to educate and familiarize our members with the toy industry. Our Club greatly benefitted from the Young Inventors Club. It sparked curiosity within our children’s minds as to what their ingenuity can produce. Now, we have members anxiously awaiting the new round of the Young Inventors Challenge!”

Megan would keep the kids going on their projects even throughout the week when I wasn’t there. She recorded all their presentations and helped with their submissions. I loved the support I got from her and the club as it made things run much more smoothly.

The kids were amazing!!!!!! July to October all 10 kids in the club worked on their toy and game inventions and it was honestly very rewarding for me each time I was there at the club mentoring. I got to know all the kids, their quirks, their challenges, their thoughts and fears…and my allotted hour turned into me spending more and more time each week – because we were all having so much fun together!

For someone who wasn’t big on volunteering in the first place, I had such a great time with the kids and the club was so welcoming, I honestly cannot wait until the Fall to start it all over again! Sometimes kids just need someone to believe in them or someone to listen to them. Being there for them is what I found most rewarding along with all the hugs I got when I came in each week. In the end there were 5 kids who submitted their ideas. According to one of the kids Lacey, “I never knew I could actually make a game that someone would want to play!” The other 5 created their games/toys but didn’t submit for various reasons, some were fear, a couple didn’t want to present in front of a camera…these things can be scary to kids. This was ok – the point of the challenge was to learn about the toy industry and all the opportunities it could hold and for the kids to challenge themselves creatively – which they did.

Out of the 5 that submitted, DJ Corbitt won in his category!!! I reacted like any proud parent would and just cried…it was such an amazing moment for him. We had a big celebration at the Boys and Girls club to celebrate the kids and to give DJ his award. Even our local press picked up the story! Our local Westfield Mall donated $25 gift certificates and movie tickets as part of the kids prize packs and my co-workers at Disney graciously donated toys and games as part of the prize pack. The kids were ecstatic! It doesn’t take a whole lot to make them feel special and most importantly valued. Even Matt Nelson, Chief Executive Officer of the Boys and Girls Club of Santa Clarita Valley is excited for next year, “This program provided an opportunity for our youth to be supported in their creativity and innovation. It was incredible to see the kids journey through the process of having an idea spark into making it real and presenting it to the public. For our club kids who participated they gained confidence, learned new skills and a sense of pride in their accomplishments. All of us were blown away by the toys and games they created. We look forward to YIC in 2020!”

That’s what it’s all about folks. These are the kids who will lead this industry into the future. We need to get the word out there that this is the industry they should be looking to and they can be whatever they want to be…a toy designer, a builder, a slime maker or even a marketer like me. Thank you Boys and Girls Club for changing me, thank you for trusting me with these young minds it was an amazing ride!

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