Bead Buzz: Teenagers are Making Jewelry to Raise Money for Cleft Palate Charity

Nandini Arakoni was born with a cleft lip. Luckily, Nandini lives in the United States. She received cleft palate surgery at a young age and now lives a completely normal life. Recently, Nandini began thinking about the thousands of children across the world who don’t have access to this life-changing surgery. The cost of a single surgery is less than $250, which might be affordable to a family in the United States but can be too expensive for families elsewhere in the world.

Appalled at the idea that so many children are robbed of the same opportunities she received, Nandini decided to do something about it. She and her lifelong friend, Sanjana Gangadharan, decided to tackle this easily solvable problem. They founded Side By Side Smiles, a charity that raises funds for Smile Train. The girls are making jewelry to raise money, creating charm bracelets they sell for $5. Since starting their charity, the girls’ passion for helping others continues to grow.

Making jewelry to raise money, Nandini Arakoni and Sanjana Gangadharan are working hard to make a difference.

Q: Tell us a little bit about yourselves.

Nandini: I’m a 15-year-old musician with a passion for helping others. I love photography and music.
Sanjana: I am 16 and a sophomore in high school. I enjoy art, reading, and writing.

Q: When did you start making jewelry to raise money?

A: Jewelry making runs in both of our families, and we have been exposed to it for the majority of our lives. That’s where the inspiration for making charm bracelets came from, since we were already relatively experienced in basic jewelry-making skills.

Q: Where do you get the materials for your bracelets?

A: We buy all the materials ourselves. The chain is from a local craft store, and we find the rest of our materials on eBay. The cost to make each bracelet, around 80 cents, is deducted from the total donations we receive.

Q: What has surprised you the most about running a charity?

A: We have been pleasantly surprised by the support we have received from people. Sometimes at events, people will come up to us and tell us that they’ve heard of us before, or they think what we are doing is amazing. Obviously we don’t do this to receive praise, but it’s always nice to hear some kind words. Our families are incredibly supportive of us and are behind us every step of the way.

Q: Did you expect this amount of success from your charity?

A: We definitely did not expect our charity to do as well as it has. We originally just planned to sell to our friends and hopefully make a couple hundred dollars to donate.

Q: As busy teenagers, how do you find time to devote to your charity?

A: Sometimes we have very busy weeks with school and extracurricular activities, and to be honest it can get a little overwhelming to also manage a charity. However, we have learned to manage our time wisely and stay focused. Both of us are involved in numerous other activities, so whenever we have spare time we are sending emails and making bracelets. It helps that we’re doing this together, and we know that all our time and effort is worth it.

Q: How long do you plan on running your charity? Will you follow it all the way through high school? College?

A: Neither of us can say how long we will continue this charity. We like to stay present and in the moment, so we can focus on what we are doing. However, we definitely agree that we would love to run our charity as long as possible.

The charm bracelet being sold to raise money for cleft palate surgeries.

Q: How can the beading and jewelry community help?

A: The beading and jewelry community can help us by supporting our charity and following us on social media: Side By Side Smiles on Facebook, @sidebysidesmiles on Instagram, and @sidebysidesmile on Twitter. If everyone helps us spread the word, we can save even more smiles! Also, we would appreciate any tips on jewelry making or supplies.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

A: We hope that anyone out there who wants to make a difference, but is scared to put themselves out there, realizes they should just go for it. If everyone works together we can truly change the world, no matter what cause we are fighting for. It just takes an idea, passion, and effort, and anyone can make a difference. At the end of the day, that is the main message we are trying to spread.

To donate, go to the Side By Side Smiles website or visit Smile Train. If you have any jewelry making advice or would like to get involved in Sided By Side Smiles, contact Nandini and Sanjana at [email protected].

Marissa Bouska
Assistant Editor, Beadwork magazine

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