You might have seen Camp Fire teen Ella Matlock recently in Real Simple. Or maybe it was Good Morning America, CNN, The Washington Post, Parents, or E! Online.
As co-founder of the Be The Change Coloring Co., Ella has been doing a lot of interviews lately, and for good reason: The story of how she and her friends created a small business that gives back—in the middle of a pandemic—gives “viral success” a whole new, feel-good meaning.
In April, Ella and her friends Lauryn Hong, Sofia Migliazza and Erin Rogers were in lockdown and attending virtual classes at Long Beach Polytechnic High School when they got what would be a life-changing economics assignment: Create a theoretical business plan that would help solve a social or environmental problem. The students’ solution ended up going way beyond theory.
“Being in Camp Fire, I knew what it was like to give back,” Ella says, remembering eight months ago when Be the Change was just a glimmer of an idea. “I understood the process, but I didn’t anticipate this response!”
Wanting to teach kids how to protect themselves from the virus and help entertain them during quarantine, Ella’s team imagined an educational coloring book that would give to nonprofits with each purchase. They researched the coloring book industry and projected modest sales. It was all just homework until families and friends started asking for the still-imaginary book, and their teacher Mr. Montooth encouraged them to launch their business.
“We assumed we could sell 25 coloring books to friends and family,” Ella laughs. “We didn’t end up selling just 25.”
Lauryn wrote COVID Coloring Book while Ella and Sofia created the illustrations and activities. Erin became the book’s creative director, while Mr. Montooth and Polytechnic parents connected the teens to a local printer. By early June, they were delivering coloring books to their first customers.
“All of May was busy,” Ella says. “We were still in school, doing AP classes. It was crazy to be filling hundreds of orders and studying for AP tests at the same time. And then summer blew up!”
As their Instagram burst with pictures of kids playing with the COVID Coloring Book, the story started catching fire.
“That positive feedback is my favorite part of this, for sure,” Ella says. Even though she doesn’t have an Instagram of her own, her friends show her the pictures people send them from all over the country. “I love that so much—seeing the kids coloring the books, actually happy.”
This summer, the girls’ parents took over the company’s ordering and shipping logistics, so Ella and her friends could field interview requests and develop their second book. Stand Up for Your-shell-ves uses the story of Sam the Snail to teach children about racism, discrimination and respect.
They released Stand Up in August, then followed it quickly this fall with H for Handwashing in collaboration with Lifebuoy and Unilever for Global Handwashing Day on October 15.
“We have no plans of stopping,” says Ella. “We have five other books in mind. We want to keep going!”
Ella has been part of Camp Fire Angeles since 1st grade. She’s been a Day Camp Aide at Camp Shiwaka for two summers running, and is hoping to go to Winter Camp this year, too. Ella says the things she learned in Camp Fire helped Be the Change succeed so quickly. Not only did Camp Fire give her a community-service mindset, but it also trained her to have a professional outlook.
“As the 10th grade rep for Horizon Club, I had to do monthly officer reports and mission moments,” Ella explains. “We have to write about ourselves so much for Be the Change, from emails to essays. It’s been really easy for me to do that because of my experience in Horizon Club.”
With more than 10,000 copies and $30,000 in donations since May, Be the Change Coloring Co. is a legitimate social enterprise. Ella plans to use Be the Change as the foundation of her WoHeLo Award project. She wants other Camp Fire Kids to know they are capable of starting their own world-changing ventures.
“They know the same things I do,” says Ella. ‘They can do it, too!”