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One of my clearest postpartum memories is sitting in the office at my old job, methodically going through an entire box of Kleenex while looking at pictures of my 12-week-old son on my phone and Googling “quitting job after maternity leave.”
This is not unusual. Many parents feel overwhelmed with the prospect of full-time work after having kids. Especially when there’s that nagging sense that you’re not making as much of a difference as you could.
Mom and entrepreneur Sejal Parag came to those crossroads. As a new mom, she was working as an event planner for an educational nonprofit. But, surrounded by teachers who were making a difference every day in kids’ lives, she couldn’t help but feel like she wasn’t. Plus, balancing late-night and weekend work while tending to a small child was just not working.
That’s when she decided to make a change — to get out from behind her desk and create her own flexible, work-from-home dream job — while still helping those teachers she admired so much.
Sejal founded KarmaLit — an eco-friendly candle line. They offer unique scents, like their best seller with hints of vanilla and leather. “It smells like my husband when I met him,” Sejal tells Babble.
However, the company does more than just make your house smell good. They also donate a portion of their sales to help fund classroom needs through the Smell.Good.Do.Good. initiative. Smell.Good.Do.Good uses the platform Donors Choose to fund projects. Donors Choose is a bit like Kickstarter for teachers. And — listen up, public school teachers — it’s easy (and free) to sign up to have your classroom be a potential recipient.
“When I started KarmaLit, I knew I wanted to be part of something that was bigger,” says Sejal. “There are tons of candle companies out there, but this initiative stands for something greater. It lasts beyond the temporary relevance of the candle. It’s hard for kids to learn if they don’t have the supplies they need.”
While parents may let out a collective groan when that shockingly large (and oddly specific) school supply list arrives every summer, parents spend a fraction of what U.S. teachers shell out to keep their classrooms running. According to Agile Education Marketing, the average teacher spent about $468 on supplies this last school year. And given that teachers are not generally making a killing in public education, that makes a huge dent.
Bekah Sabzalian, my friend who spent four years teaching in the Portland public school system, tells Babble:
“Classroom supplies are essential and so teachers purchase the materials they need to make learning happen, for all learners,” says Bekah. “They take every little thing — a tissue box, a clothing hanger, an ice tray, shower backing — and make the tools they need to foster learning. Even with their ingenuity, I don’t know a teacher who doesn’t spend their own money every single year to create a functional learning environment.”
KarmaLit has funded 19 projects nationwide, amounting to over $7,000 — including supplying classrooms with Chromebooks, musical instruments, and writing tools. Being a self-described “math nerd,” Sejal tends to gravitate toward funding math-based projects, but her 5-year-old daughter Suri helps round out the choices. “She likes to pick projects based on whether someone is wearing a cute dress,” Sejal confesses. (Don’t worry, Sejal will probe a bit deeper before picking a project to fund.)
Sejal feels good that through her work she is able to help teachers create the classrooms they need to do their jobs — all while doing something that she loves.
KarmaLit is just entering its third year — a big milestone for this small business woman. She credits her success to hard work, a love for what she does, and a huge boost when her product was featured on Handmade at Amazon — a destination for artisans around the world to sell unique, handcrafted items.
“I love the flexibility, and that my kids see that I love what I’m doing,” says Sejal of her daughter and 2-year-old son Syan. “For a long time, they didn’t even realize that what I was doing was a job and not just a hobby – my daughter calls it my ‘jobby.'”
Sejal also appreciates that her products can be a meaningful part of her clients’ lives, as candles were during her childhood. “I’ve always loved candles and spent way too much money on them. Growing up, my mom lit a candle every day at 6 PM,” she says.
Now she is able to create those memories for her clients. “I love that I am creating people’s memories around these scents,” Sejal says. “I’m giving that person something I didn’t even know I could do, and I’m helping kids.”
Yup, dream job nailed.