The Specklebelly Lemonade boys have cookies and a few different types of lemonade for sale at their stand in front of the Kotzebue Fire Hall. - courtesy of Maija Katak Lukin

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Northwest Arctic kids learn life skills with lemonade

June 16th | Shady Grove Oliver Print this article   Email this article  

Sour is the taste of sweet success for the young businesspeople of the Northwest Arctic who brought out their stands, their cups, and their lemons this year for Lemonade Day.

"It's really fun learning the skills of being a young entrepreneur, like socializing and math, that sort of stuff," said Coltrane Chase, 13, who ran Kotzebue's Specklebelly Lemonade stand with his partner, Kyle.

Lemonade Day is an annual event centered around teaching youth to run a small business for a day, in the form of an old-school lemonade stand.

Nationally, it's held on the first Saturday in May. However, in Alaska, there's often still snow on the ground at that time of year and the demand for hot chocolate is higher than that for a cool glass of juice. So, in colder parts of the country, the day is bumped back a month. This year it was held on June 10.

This was the third year Coltrane hosted a booth. Each year he learns new skills and gains confidence in the ones he already has, he said.

"Since a lot of people come to your booth, you learn some social skills like smiling all the time, saying 'Thank you' and 'Have a nice day' and just not being shy," Coltrane said.

His booth was set up outside the Kotzebue Fire Hall, a location picked specifically for the amount of foot traffic it gets. Chase hoped the central spot would encourage more visitors to stop and make a purchase.

"It's good for them because we let them do it on their own. We don't hover," said Saima Chase, one of the adults backing his booth. "They have to do all the greeting, asking what the customers want, giving change, and doing the correct order. At the end they get to see how much money they make, so they can see a whole afternoon of work is worth this much money."

Coltrane and his partner walked away with more than $300 total this year, but not all of that went directly into their pockets. First it helped pay their overhead, then some of it went to a good cause, and finally, what was left was theirs for the keeping.

"They had to pay us back for all the supplies, so they have to see that they can't just go into something without having to pay somebody back for the stuff they needed to make that money," said Saima.

It's an important lesson for kids to learn, she said. There's often costs involved in a money-making endeavor, and debts are important to pay off promptly.

Each year, the boys who work the Specklebelly booth, along with the proprietors of their sister-booth, Saltwater Girls, are encouraged to pick a person or organization to donate some of their profits to. Past recipients have included Maniilaq's long-term care facility and Nikaitchuat Ilisagviat. This year, both booths' members decided to support the Fourth of July baby contest.

"They decide on their own," Saima explained.

Life skills like these are a byproduct of Lemonade Day for the kids who participate. For youth in rural areas, learning how to handle backers, investors, customers, and community members at an early age can put them one step ahead in the future, said organizers of the event, speaking to the Sounder in 2016.

Upriver in Kiana, two young girls were hard at work over the weekend putting the finishing touches on their L&L booth, which was short for their names: Lindsey and Lauryn.

"We made posters and put it on the VHF," said Lindsey, 9. Their family promoted their booth on Facebook, too.

She and her sister Lauryn, 6, are from Kotzebue but they ran their booth out of the home of Kiana residents Tom Cyrus and Jeanne Gerhardt-Cyrus. They started out on the porch but moved back inside when the weather turned worse.

"They were pretty excited. It took a while for their first customer but after that, they had a lot come in," said Inukuk Gerhardt-Cyrus. "My nieces were in charge of their cash register and everything. We kind of just left it to them."

The girls sold lemon freeze pops, pudding cups, jell-o cups, lemonade, and key lime bars during the afternoon. In total, they made more than $100, which was about $20 more than last year.

"I was proud of them," said Gerhardt-Cyrus. "Knowing that they can do this kind of stuff at a young age makes me not worry about them when they get older because they'll already have some experience."

It's a sentiment their mother, Maggie Swanson, shares. She wasn't able to be out in Kiana for the event, but helped her daughters prepare for it several weeks in advance.

"They were already planning on it," Swanson said. "They had participated in it last year so they just knew it was going to happen again. They had started planning about a month before, what they wanted in it, what ingredients had to be bought ahead of time, the supplies they needed."

Swanson said the girls decided what they were going to make and ordered cups and decorations online before the event.

"They wanted bright colors and fancy umbrellas," she said with a laugh.

She and her Kiana relatives were happy to support the girls because of the positive skills they'd learn while participating, she said.

"I was really excited for them to start thinking about managing a business and to start thinking about their future," said Swanson. "It teaches them responsibility and independence and things like that."

More information about the event can be found at

Shady Grove Oliver can be reached at


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