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Crafty kids decorate, sell pillows at school

When it comes to business strategy, the kids at PS 94 in Little Neck know what they’re talking about.

After all, it’s the fifth-grade students who have taken the school’s Cozy Comforts project — producing and selling decorated pillows — and developed the venture into a thriving enterprise in just three years.

“We take special orders, have gift certificates and sales,” said Michael Petrillo, shredding manager.

Andrew Balbontin, an assistant stuffer for Cozy Comforts, said “you have to be organized” to have a successful business.

Deanna Kokotos, who helps run the Cozy Comforts publicity department, said “it’s more fun than we thought.”

Fun is the operative word at PS 94, where the school’s two fifth grade classes work with the support of teachers and staff each year to manufacture, advertise and sell their Cozy Comforts, earning money not only towards class trips but to reinvest in the business.

Using 12 shredders, the children scour the school for paper to stuff the pillows and use an assembly line process to decorate them, prepare the stuffing and manufacture their product for holidays and special requests.

With an executive committee of about 20 students, the business gives everyone in the fifth grade a chance to work.

“Different students discover different strengths,” said Principal JoAnn Barbeosch. “They work together beautifully.”

Occasionally, members of the executive committee said, the group will design a Cozy Comfort after a famous person. With the help of head artists Joshua Kim, Swan Park, and Katherine Kim, subjects have ranged from television personality Rosie O’Donnell to state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose).

An annual rite of passage at PS 94, Cozy Comforts began as a way to recycle some of the school’s garbage.

Science teacher Andrea Franke, who often gives up her free time to help oversee the Cozy Comforts project, said the group began with a single paper-shredder and the students do the majority of the work themselves.

“When the pillows get broken in, they’re like old straw,” she said. “They’ve taken on so much responsibility,” she said of the students.

Custodian Kevin Shea, who helps find supplies for the group and a space for them to work, said the school’s garbage has been reduced dramatically since Cozy Comforts began.

“I used to take out 11, 12 or 14 bags,” he said. “Now we’re down to six because they’re doing this.”

“You can see the enjoyment they get,” Shea said of the Cozy Comforts staff. “They work hard.”

Running the business gives the fifth graders a chance to deal with real-life problems, Franke said, such as complaints and equipment difficulties.

When a recently ordered shredder was broken on arrival, she said the students “packed it up, called the company and sent it back.”

During a recent shortage of pillow cases, Angelique Bouzolakos, who also runs the publicity department, said the students wrote to about 30 different companies asking for donations.

Cozy Comforts has been such a popular venture, Barbeosch and Franke said, that students have gone into other schools to show them how to set up such a business.

Each student finds a way to participate, whether it is shredding paper, drawing and writing words on the pillow cases or assembling.

“Whatever you’re good at, it’s of use here,” said Michael Petrillo.

As the children get ready for the end of the school year, the Cozy Comforts staff is preparing to pass the torch of the business to the school’s incoming fifth graders.

Michelle Lee, the group’s treasurer, said the last two weeks of the school year will be spent with the next Cozy Comforts group.

“We’ll train them how to do it,” she said.

Barbeosch said neither she nor the staff at PS 94 had any idea Cozy Comforts would be so successful.

“We never thought that it would be as self-sustaining as it is,” she said, “or as rewarding as it is, or that we would see so much children’s growth.”

To order a Cozy Comfort, donate supplies or for more information, contact Business Managers Angelo Giokas and Kelly McCann, c/o PS 94 , 41-77 Little Neck Pkwy, Little Neck, N.Y. 11363.

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

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