Teen girl's cards help charities
Thursday, September 29, 2011
McKenzie Howard, 19, has faced many struggles in her young life, but through it all, her focus has been on giving back to others.
Born with Down syndrome, she also has a rare autoimmune disease that her doctors have yet to identify. But the teenager is comforted by a love of art that she turned into a full-fledged business selling greeting cards to support area charities.
McKenzie's drawing is systematic, first lining out patterns with a black marker on a sheet of paper. She then lines out four colored markers to fill in the spaces, creating imagery almost reminiscent of stained-glass windows, said her father, Bobby Howard.
Howard said McKenzie first began drawing the patterns in May 2008 while hospitalized for the autoimmune disease that is targeting her lungs.
"During that time frame, she'd gotten sick and she was less active. She loves artwork and she loves drawing, so she'd literally do this (drawing) every day. She just started doing that in the hospital one time, but now we have hundreds of them," Howard said.
A family member first introduced the idea of turning McKenzie's artwork into greeting cards.
Kardz by Kenz became a reality once the family began taking the drawings to local print shops that same year.
"In that one day (when the cards were first printed), we sold 20, so we went back and had 50 packs made up, taking the money and making more and more and more," Howard said.
The insides of the cards are left blank, making it easier for buyers to pen their own messages for any occasion.
McKenzie packages her cards, selling a set of five for $5.
So far, McKenzie has sold more than 1,000 packages in 30 states, Howard said.
"It's (selling the cards) basically by word of mouth. She has a Facebook page now and the website, but we just ask people that we know to spread the word," Howard said.
Howard said his daughter keeps half of what she sells as profit. The rest she donates to her favorite charities.
"She's just got such a big heart. Someday, she would like to work with kids. She'll say, 'I just want to tell them they're beautiful on the inside and outside,' " Howard said.
"I do want to help kids. ... I just want to tell them about art and things," McKenzie elaborated.
Some of the charities McKenzie supports include Art for Life, the Down Syndrome Association of the Lowcountry and the National Down Syndrome Society.
McKenzie also hopes to raise $1,000 for Victory Junction, a camp in North Carolina for children with special needs.
Howard said the camp means a lot to McKenzie after the family took a trip there in 2007 shortly before she began making the greeting cards.
"The camp was fun. I liked hanging out with friends," McKenzie said.
In the past few weeks, McKenzie's business has come second to managing her health.
Howard said McKenzie's respiratory disease flares up every two to three years, and a recent bout has caused blood and fluid to build up in her lungs.
McKenzie was hospitalized for nine days and has missed more than three weeks at Stratford High School, where she is completing her senior year.
McKenzie is eager to get back to school, but in the meantime, she remains at home on oxygen and taking antibiotics to ease her symptoms.
"I miss my friends," McKenzie said of her desire to go back to school.
Until then, McKenzie said she's content doing what she's doing, playing with her Wii and, of course, drawing.
The see her designs and purchase cards, visit www.kardzbykenz.com.