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Students reuse, reduce, reap reward

Greg Van Doren, left, and Cory Jones, built this bench for a class project. The two have since sold a similar bench. (Lisa Leinberger)
Greg Van Doren, left, and Cory Jones, built this bench for a class project. The two have since sold a similar bench. (Lisa Leinberger)

Krista Larsen gave her environmental science class at Central Valley High School an assignment that for two students turned into a potential business opportunity.

Recent graduates Cory Jones, 18, and Greg Van Doren, 19, were in Larsen’s class when she assigned “Reuse-apolooza,” a project to help students think about reducing waste, reusing old materials or refurbishing or repairing items.

Jones and Van Doren came up with a few ideas for their project, including building a lamp from a car shaft or a clock out of an old piston.

“We talked about a fireplace,” Van Doren said.

What they came up with instead was interesting enough to attract a buyer.

The pair created a bench using two old tailgates from trucks and four wheel rims. Van Doren said he already had the wheels when he walked around Pull and Save looking for parts. He spent $80 for the two tailgates.

“I was expecting good things, but when they brought that in, it was jaw dropping,” Larsen said.

Jones said it took the two of them about 24 hours to put the bench together. They welded the pieces and used an adhesive called Bondo. After it was painted, they had a bench Van Doren now places in front of his fire pit.

“You gotta keep the prototype,” Jones said.

When everyone’s projects were turned in, Larsen invited staff and students from Adams Elementary to her classroom to look at the projects. There were lampshades made of empty energy drink cans, bags made from Capri Sun pouches and a jump rope made from plastic grocery bags.

“They were really excited,” Larsen said of her students. She even posted pictures of some of the projects online. One of her friends, Ty Fowler, was browsing through Facebook that day and saw the bench.

“(I said) ‘That is awesome, I want that. No, for real,’ ” Fowler said.

Fowler visited with Jones and Van Doren and not only did they agree on a price – $450 – for Fowler’s own custom-made bench, but Fowler offered to help them start their own business.

Fowler, who used to own his own business, offered to give them advice on marketing their bench, free of charge. He said he researched similar products online and found they were selling for $450 to $650.

“Coming in and talking with them, it was impressive to me,” Fowler said.

Van Doren and Jones said they have ideas for more products, such as a chair made from the trunk lid of a Geo Prism.

The two have been friends since sixth grade. They both said they had never thought about owning their own business before this project.

Larsen said Jones told her he had never been more proud of a school project before. He said the project took such a long time researching and putting together it became frustrating, but when he saw the response, it was “instant gratification.”

“I was impressed with how they really stepped up,” Larsen said.

Now that they’ve graduated, Van Doren is working at Discount Tire until the fall when he’ll attend Wyotech, an automotive school in Wyoming. Jones is working with Compass USA over the summer with Japanese exchange students and will study to become a firefighter at Spokane Community College this fall.

“I’ll probably take over until he gets back,” Jones said.

The two don’t have a name for their company, but they hope to take it on as a hobby while they are still in school, hopefully for a little extra cash.

“We didn’t think it would explode like this,” Jones said.