By Susannah Foley
Recycling really floats Carly Simon’s boat – especially when that boat is made from a soda bottle and popsicle sticks.
For Simon, who expects to earn her bachelor’s degree in psychology with a concentration in Child and Adolescent Studies in December, one woman’s trash is another’s sustainable treasure.
Simon is the founder, chief fundraiser and creative genius of The Tinker Factory, a reuse center located in Allentown, her hometown in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley. Simon opened the factory last year as a clearinghouse for discarded materials and is dedicated to helping crafters and kids creatively repurpose the resources.
The seed for The Tinker Factory was planted in the Environmental Issues course taught by Amy Farnum.
“The idea had been brewing in my head for two years,” Simon says. “In early childhood classes, I’d been learning about the benefits of open-ended discovery and I knew recycled materials fostered that kind of play.”
In Farnum’s class, during discussions about diverting waste and educating kids about eco-issues, Simon connected the dots. Why not create a place where households and businesses could donate things rather than throw them out?
Farnum, an academic advisor in addition to being an adjunct faculty member for the College of Online and Continuing Education, became an early supporter. Although Simon took the course four terms ago, she and Farnum are still in touch at least once a month.
“She’s gone above and beyond in every way — from helping me create a business plan to suggesting environmental grants,” Simon says.
When it came to naming the venture, Simon says she was drawn to “tinker” because it embraces an experimental approach and “has a fun, Willy Wonka vibe.” Simon knows something about the power of a name. “I met the other Carly Simon at a bookstore about 15 years ago and discovered we share not only the same first and last name but also the same middle name, Elizabeth,” Simon says, laughing.
Pop singer may not be on this Simon’s list of accomplishments, but her schedule is jam-packed. A single parent of a tween daughter, Simon has been earning her degree while holding not one, not two, but three jobs in education.
“I started at SNHU more than two years ago as a junior and found the flexibility of online learning really works for me,” Simon says.
Being active online has helped Simon grow The Tinker Factory’s profile. In addition to a website and Facebook page, Simon has set up a crowdsourcing campaign to help launch the nonprofit and lease community space. In the meantime, her dining room serves as an ad-hoc upcycling warehouse.
But Simon’s not waiting for a dedicated address to get going. In the last few months, she’s made the rounds at neighborhood libraries with a cache of materials to engage kids in art. Her blog gives how-to instructions for nuts-and-bolts necklaces and paper-towel sabers, and her website wish list includes more than a hundred items, from artificial flowers to zippers.
As for Simon’s post-graduation plans, she’s started job hunting and has big dreams for The Tinker Factory.
“The Pittsburgh Creative Resource Center receives $50,000 in donated materials and diverts 12 tons of waste from landfills. I am hoping to accomplish similar goals,” she says.
She’s also thinking of applying for a master’s or doctorate program in child development. The university at the top of her list?
“SNHU, of course,” Simon says, not missing a beat.
For more information on The Tinker Factory, visit http://www.thetinkerfactory.org.