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Ligonier Valley students produce, sell handmade wares

| Wednesday, April 23, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Mommy Gear merchant Dawn Lamuth-Higgins and her student representative Carlos Chavez (center) are framed by a Deacon Bench made by Ligonier ValleyHigh School students taught by Mr. Bridge while browsing at the Valley Market at Ligonier Middle School on April 16, 2014 in Ligonier. Students displayed hand crafted items to Ligonier merchants who will chose items to sell in their stores beginning in May.

Wooden Adirondack chairs, colorful owl sculptures and elegant clay pendant necklaces are among the student-created items available for purchase at area merchants through the Recognizing Amazing Merchants and Students, or R.A.M.S., program this year.

The program, now in its third year, held its Valley Market on April 16 at Ligonier Valley Middle School. Merchant members of the Ligonier Valley Chamber of Commerce browsed an array of items made by students throughout the district, including those who attend Eastern Westmoreland Career and Technology Center. Merchants place orders for desired items, and profit from the sales benefit the schools' arts programs.

R.A.M.S. “was created as a partnership between the chamber of commerce and Ligonier Valley School District to promote entrepreneurship with the students,” said Holly Mowrey, executive director of the chamber. “We're hoping through this program, students may realize they want to be a business owner and possibly in the future have a store in Ligonier.”

Fifteen merchants and restaurants participated in this year's event, Mowrey said.

At the market, participating students lined the gymnasium at tables displaying items made in classes like art and woodworking. Teacher Emily Tatsch's business management and accounting class coordinated the event, preparing marketing, conducting inventory and handling customer service.

“I think the products are getting better,” Tatsch said. “It's developing a reputation, and kids want to get involved in the project. It's nice to see how engaging it is with the students and how much it means to them.”

After watching a behind-the-scenes video made by students, merchants were allowed to browse for 10 minutes, devising their game plans for exactly what products they would order.

Individual merchants were then paired up with student guides who escorted them to each table, jotting down order quantities.

Fifth-graders Ella Puckett, 10, and Jenna Street, 11, stood proudly next to a bright red, leaf-imprinted clay vase they created in art class at R.K. Mellon Elementary. The students were hopeful the merchants would like their artwork.

“We put a lot of hard work and sweat into this,” Street said.

High school art class students displayed their work as well. Senior Zack Landry, 17, said they made Christmas cards using one of Andy Warhol's “ink transfer” techniques, while “slab construction” and “pinch-pot” techniques were used in creating ceramic berry bowls and sponge holders.

Landry feels the program benefits students by showing them “behind the scenes” work that goes into buying and selling merchandise, while also instilling time management skills.

“It gives them a look at the big picture,” he said.

Art teacher Linda O'Sullivan stood with her seventh- and eighth-grade students as they spoke with merchants about their clay pendants and painted “Get Organized” clothespins.

“One of the greatest assets we have in Ligonier is our supportive community, so it's really nice for students to be involved with merchants and the community at large,” she said. “Not only is it great for them to get credit for their great artwork, but also it really builds citizenship because now they have a stake in the merchants.”

Senior Carlos Chavez, 18, served as Mommy Gear owner Dawn Lamuth-Higgins' student guide at the market.

Participating in the event has “definitely” inspired Chavez to contemplate starting his own business one day.

“Nowadays, business is kind of everywhere,” he said. “For me ... this was kind of like an internship.”

Though Lamuth-Higgins said she was not expecting to find much for her store catering to mothers, she was pleased to find the elementary students' clay owl sculptures, which go well with the owl trend in baby nursery decor.

“I love to encourage students to pursue jobs in small business because having your own business provides you with flexibility and creativity that you would never have if you worked in a corporate setting,” Lamuth-Higgins said. “It's really the best combination of talent, risk and fun that you can possibly have when you own a small business.”

The handmade merchandise will be available to the public for purchase at “R.A.M.S. Night,” an open house to be held from 5 to 7 p.m. on May 8, and the items will continue to be sold at participating merchants.

For more information, contact the Ligonier Valley Chamber of Commerce at 724-238-4200.

Nicole Chynoweth is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2862 or nchynoweth@tribweb.com.

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