You can make a living doing what you love.

That was one of the lessons that teachers at Bozeman’s Sacajawea Middle School hoped their students would learn in an “economic adventure” project that sent sixth- and seventh-graders out to meet local people who own for-profit businesses and who work for nonprofit organizations.

“Our goal was to help them think beyond school walls, to see what real people do,” said Wendy Morical, gifted education coordinator for the Bozeman School District.

“Since economics is in the news all the time, we thought it important that kids understand even the words” of economics, she added.

Six students talked Thursday about the eye-opening experiences they had visiting both nonprofits and businesses. As part of the project, students also had to come up with plans to start their own businesses.

Sofia Shomento, 12, visited the Adopt-a-Sox project, volunteers who collect food, toiletries and small gifts to send in care packages to troops in war zones at Christmas.

“I was just amazed at how devoted people who worked there were,” Sofia said. “They’re so passionate about what they do.”

To help Adopt-a-Sox spread the word about its work, she helped record a radio public service announcement to be aired in August.

Kingston Perry, 12, learned about the Montana Ghost Town Preservation Society and the Fort Ellis Rural Fire Department, which included a chance to get in a fire truck.

“I thought it was real cool people at Fort Ellis were willing to volunteer to save people,” Kingston said. “They do it out of the kindness of their hearts.”

Alli Buckner loves riding horses, so she met with the Back Country Horsemen and learned how much they contribute to clearing trails.

Rebecca Kruse and Sutton Vargo, both 12, love animals and got to see the SNIP Veterinary Clinic provide free spay and neutering surgeries for a cat and two dogs.

Erick Lawrence, 11, said he learned the difference between nonprofits and for-profits.

“At first I thought nonprofits just didn’t make money,” Erick said. He learned that nonprofits plow net earnings back into the organization, instead of “going back to the boss.” Erick said he also learned a lot from business owners and was impressed by how hard it is to pay for all supplies, employees and equipment and still earn enough to stay in business.

“It kind of gave me respect for how hard it is for the people that start their own business,” Sofia said.

“I didn’t know it was that hard,” Rebecca agreed.

For his nonprofit experience, Erick visited the Bozeman Bike Kitchen, where volunteers fix bicycles. Today he’s collecting used bikes and bike parts at Sacajawea School to contribute to the cause.

Students also came up with their own business ideas. The best ones will be presented at the end of the month to business professors and students at Montana State University.

Sutton’s idea is a Fashion4U custom fashion design business. Sofia proposed an organic food-to-go business for busy families, called O-to-Go. Kingston dreamed of a sports clothing and memorabilia store, called Fields of Dreams.

Next Thursday students will present their nonprofit experiences to parents and nonprofit staff members at the Museum of the Rockies.

“It’s a terrific project that allows kids to be out in the community to learn from businesses and organizations and create their own projects,” Principal Gordon Grissom said.

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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