Tucked away in Del Ray down the driveway, up the stairs and through the double doors is UpCycle, a new nonprofit focused on creating community engagement through the arts and environmental awareness.
The business, run by former school teachers Kelley Organek and Susan Miranda, offers classes, camps, workshops for families, teachers and others by collecting and redistributing reusable materials for art and learning purposes. Their shop is open for anyone to buy crafting supplies – a neighborhood hot spot for getting ideas for birthday parties, Halloween costumes or projects to do at home or at UpCycle.
A walk into their shop, down the driveway past the Fannon Fine Printing building at 1712 Mount Vernon Ave. is a controlled explosion of arts and crafts materials for sale. In the back is a studio for putting things together as well as places to sit and craft.
It’s a eclectic, crafty sort of place. Most of the furniture was donated by Mind and Media as it was moving from Del Ray to Old Town.
The business owners met at Beverley Hills Preschool. Organek was the director from 2008 through 2012 and previously a teacher with Alexandria City Public Schools. Miranda taught art at Beverley Hills and in Fairfax County Public Schools.
Beverley Hills is based on the early childhood education philosophy Reggio Emilia and as part of their teacher training the duo went to Italy to study the Reggio Emilia concepts.
It was there that they each had a life-changing experience when they visited a citywide recycling center, Remida.
“Business and industry come together to drop off their reusable goods instead of throwing them in the trash – they have everything from bike helmets, cones, computer parts, metal punch outs and more,” Miranda explains.
Remida distributes the goods to Emilia preschools and early learning centers in town.
“The community comes together to go to classes. It pulls together the community,” she said.
Organek says she was “completely intrigued by the idea. You could see who lives in the city based on what they exhibit and see the presence in the city of who lives there.”
“These recycling efforts bringing the community together showed that a city is not just buildings and people walking to and from work,” Miranda said. “It can be so much more.”
The two teacher moms were so inspired they incorporated UpCycle in fall 2011, but “we realized we couldn’t be moms and everything else and launch the business” so they left the preschool to concentrate on UpCycle full-time.
They looked around for a space for about a year while they were offering classes elsewhere including after-school programming at Maury Elementary.
“We talked to the city Rec Department and [Transportation & Environmental Services] and they were all very supportive,” Organek said. Additionally, Fannon Fine Printing owner Daniel Fannon helped them with their logo and has been “incredibly supportive.”
They moved their business behind the print shop June 1 and offered two summer camps.
“And thank goodness!” they both exclaim laughing, noting that the majority of the arts and crafts supplies previously were stored at their respective homes in the Rosemont and Shooters Hill neighborhoods.
They are currently working on building relationships with business owners who are keen to donate their excess goods, otherwise known as trash.
For example, a local optometrist gives them discarded eyeglass lenses rather than throwing them away. Del Ray-based Artifacts offers waste from framing like foam core and mat boards. They are seeking other businesses that might want to donate items that could be recycled into arts and crafts projects.
For the community, drop-in studio time runs Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. for a $5 fee or a $15 maximum for a family to come in and craft. They are also involved in a Del Ray yarn-bombing project. The fall schedule of classes and other information is on the UpCycle website.