It was a sunny day in May when two sisters with a dream, a big sign and a card table set up curbside to sell handmade bracelets outside their Owatonna, Minnesota home. They'd already agreed: 25 percent of their profits, plus any outright donations, would go to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
It started slowly, the way many entrepreneurial endeavors do. “I was keeping an eye on them from the garage thinking they're going to quit any time,” said their dad, Heath Gollhofer. Then a couple of the girls’ friends came by and decided they needed some marketing. The friends made more signs and yelled, “Bracelets for sale!”
The first group of neighbors heard the call and it never slowed down after that. A reporter even took photos and gathered their story. Heather, 9, and Sammy, 6, believed this meant they’d be famous.
And why not? They knew their bracelets were beautiful and their cause was good.
In late 2019, their aunt taught them to make bracelets. “My sister does hobby bead sales,” said Heath, “and the girls fell in love with the process of making them, picking out patterns and using their imagination to see what they could make next.”
The girls wanted to sell their bracelets at the Owatonna Farmer’s Market with some of the earnings going to something good. When Heath heard KFAN on-air talent and former Minnesota Viking, Ben Leber talking about his connection to St. Jude, he asked the girls to consider the cause. Leber is also a Minnesota Vikings broadcast sideline reporter and FOX College Football color commentator.
“I pitched that idea to them and explained what St. Jude does,” said Heath. “Their grandparents also told them what a great place St. Jude is and encouraged them to donate there as well. Both girls said, ‘That’s it!’"
Heath and his wife, Jenny, pulled up a St. Jude video to watch with their daughters about a girl named Ellee, being treated at St. Jude for leukemia, who loved getting mail. They sat together and cried.
When the girls realized because of COVID-19, they probably wouldn’t be able to do the farmer’s market, they – in football terms – called an audible.
“After a few days of begging to set up a table out on the corner outside our house, we caved and let them,” said Heath. “We talked to them about making sure they try to keep a table distance between them and others stopping to look or buy bracelets.”
They sold $132 in bracelets that first day. Five days later, they sold out of their bracelet stockpile and switched back to production mode.
While their school’s distance learning continued apace, the sisters were also absorbing, with their parents’ help, the basics of running a business.
“Every night we would sit down with them, count the earnings, and show them how to deduct 25 percent and add any [St. Jude] donations on top of that, which were kept separately in a Tupperware container,” said Heath.
“Heather made a log book and figured out how much of the extra money would go back into more beads, splitting some of the money with her little sister and also giving a portion to the neighbor girls for their help.”
Heath sent the reporter's article to Leber through Twitter thinking he might enjoy it. “I was shocked when he got back to me and wanted 50 bracelets for his committee,” said Heath.
So far, the sisters have raised $168 for St. Jude with a goal of $1,000 by the time school starts this fall.
Their bracelets link them to Leber, who lost his young nephew to pediatric cancer, and to Ellee from the video, and to other children at St. Jude whose stories they may never know.
For young entrepreneurs Sammy and Heather, and to their parents, the bracelets are so much more than beads and string. They are the ties that bind us.