HURST — The air shimmers above the asphalt on Precinct Line, as thick as always in the dead of Texas summer. From her post underneath a pop-up lemonade stand on her front lawn, Shari Rydzeski can tell that it’s time for an executive decision. But first, she’ll need to talk to the boss. Mikayla, Shari’s 8-year-old daughter, has been playing that role all day. The pair found themselves busier than expected in the first hour of business, and with the heat settling in and the foot traffic wavering, it’s time for a break.
After months of her pleading for its installation, the lemonade stand — a staple of American childhood — has outperformed even Mikayla’s expectations. They’ve brought in several hundred dollars already. In the span of five hours on a Saturday afternoon, the Rydzeskis saw more than 150 thirsty customers. In that time, a modest selection of two lemonades and a handful of baked goods priced at fifty cents apiece generated $1,073.
Mikayla didn’t keep any of it. Instead, she bought school supplies for 36 of her peers, becoming the youngest major donor in 6 Stones history in the process.
Young Entrepreneurs Club
The lemonade stand was Mikayla’s first foray into the cash market, but she’s no stranger to business. It’s her favorite game. While other kids are collecting toys and trading cards, the precocious third grader busies herself with keyboards, calculators, and simulated customer service calls. Her Christmas lists feature requests for typewriters and ten key adding machines.
Mikayla’s favorite game features all of the above stationed in the family’s living room, which she transforms into the “Mikayla Co.” corporate headquarters. Shari runs the phones while her husband handles IT services from his office. The company is, according to its CEO, better than Amazon.
“I think her coming home and it being this constant thing of seeing me working at home — on a computer typing and on a phone talking to people — she’s started to mimic that,” said Craig Rydzeski, Mikayla’s father. “I guess there’s some pros and cons to that, but obviously the pro is that at eight years old, she’s very entrepreneurial-minded. I think she’s just starting to run with it. It’s really cool to see that blossom in her.”
Neither Craig nor Shari was surprised to find that Mikayla dreamed of running a lemonade stand. It was the next logical step in her play. But it would take some effort to make it happen.
When Life Gives You Lemons…
As the family set out to build their first ever lemonade stand, Mikayla surprised them again. While she and her father were laying out their business plan, she asked that every dollar raised go to 6 Stones. The request caught both parents off guard; they had heard of 6 Stones through Church of the Cross in Grapevine, but they knew almost nothing about the nonprofit.
The more they researched online, the more they liked the idea. All of the money raised would be used locally, and with Operation Back 2 School on the horizon, Mikayla had the opportunity to support kids her own age. And she’d get to pick up a few other skills while she did it.
“I really wanted to learn the language of selling things; to get money and donate it. Because I had never really done that before, by myself,” Mikayla said.
“Some people out there don’t have the things they need… my dream was to help other people. I want zero kids to be starving out there. I want to help them. That’s my purpose here on Earth. I want to help other people.”
Buoyed by the Rydzeskis’ contagious enthusiasm, the lemonade stand took off. Friends and strangers alike chipped in to bring the idea to life, donating everything from hand-painted signs to pop-up tents. Michaeldae Reinhardt, a local State Farm agent, even offered to match every donation up to $300. No one thought they’d raise that much. Mikayla thought she’d be lucky to break $25.
Friends that Rock
Any good entrepreneur hires a public relations assistant to make the brand stand out. Billion dollar companies have social media teams. Mikayla had her mom.
Shari took to Facebook to tell her friends about Mikayla’s project, starting with a booming group of artistic acquaintances. NRH Rocks, a collective of artists who paint and hide decorative stones throughout North Richland Hills and the surrounding cities, was 300 members strong when the Rydzeskis found and joined the group. By the time Shari posted on the painters’ Facebook page, they were 3,000 strong.
The rock group spread Shari’s message through their own network, and before long Mikayla’s lemonade stand was also a trading post for local artists. Some brought extravagant rock paintings that drew interest from other collectors, almost all of whom stopped by to make a sizable donation before seeking out their prize. They stuffed the lemonade stand’s donation bowl with $10 and $20 bills and asked for pictures of Mikayla and Tyler instead of change. In the end, it was a memorable day for everyone.
“I think I had more fun [than Mikayla] doing it,’ Shari said. “The one thing with her is, I think I had a lot of dreams when I was younger. It’s not that my parents didn’t let me follow those dreams, but things were different back then. So I think when she has these dreams, I remember that I always wanted a lemonade stand, too. If we can do this together, we both conquer a dream… it’s like me getting to relive my childhood a little bit.”
Drops in the Bucket
For Mikayla, the dream was never monetary. It wasn’t about making childhood memories. It wasn’t even about picking up life skills, really. All she wanted was to make the world a little brighter. ‘Joyful Generosity’ is her default setting. That said, she did pick up a little inspiration from her First Grade teacher and a children’s book called How Full is Your Bucket?
“Money is less better than filling people’s buckets,” Mikayla said, referring to the intentional act of building others up. “I just like to help people. That’s my main personality; to help people… that’s my main goal; to make people happy. Possibly change the whole world from sadness to joy.”
According to her parents, she’s well on her way. One act of kindness at a time.
“She just refers to them as drops in your bucket, because she’s trying to fill you up with joy and love and compassion. She does that every day for us,” Craig said.
“In any fashion that she can, she wants to try to give back and accommodate people’s needs. I think that’s the biggest thing that is overwhelming to me: that my 8-year-old wants to give back so much… she’s accomplishing more in this than I would have ever thought possible. Definitely more than I have. More than I’ve helped. It’s really just kind of lit a fire within me, as well.”
For the Rydzeski family, $1,000 was just the beginning.
Number One Fan
The mother-daughter duo dropped by 6 Stones to turn in their donation about a month ago. In the weeks that followed, they have volunteered at the New Hope Center, organized a shoe donation drive, and even added to their fundraising total. Mikayla interrupted our preliminary interview to send her mother out to the car. She wanted to have the last two dollars of her allowance money so that she could donate it.
“I think 6 Stones is the best charity of all in the world. Because they love other people, they care for other people. And that’s what I like to do… you were the best I could find on the internet,” Mikayla said.
“This place is exciting to me because I’m helping other people right now… When my mom told me that I was considered a major donor — one of the youngest major donors here — I was just thanking God. I was amazed and I was thankful that I have done that.”
Here’s hoping that Mikayla — and others like her — are still just warming up.