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Kim Pham, a Cornell University student from Syracuse, creates polymer clay charms with the goal of helping others. She has made charms of turtles, puffins, cat cupcakes and Yoda, as well as pins with the Black Lives Matter fist and high school logos.

Founded in 2017, Pham’s company Charms for Smiles has raised money for local businesses and organizations including Syracuse Clothing Company, Luna Cafe and Raha Syracuse.

“I just picked the ones that I felt like did the most meaningful work,” said Pham, “And I try to do like a variety (of organizations).”

Pham first started making charms out of polymer clay in 2013 after discovering the polymer clay community on YouTube, where artists show off their clay creations. After practicing every day for nearly two years, Pham’s skills improved.

Inspired by another artist on social media who was selling charms to raise money for her grandma’s medical bills, Pham started selling her charms in 2017. The first organization she raised money for was Operation Smile, a global nonprofit organization that provides free surgeries to children born with cleft lips and cleft palates. Pham raised $1,300 for the organization, she said.

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Pham created fruit and vegetable charms out of polymer clay for her company Charms for Smiles. Courtesy of Kim Pham

“There are those who volunteer or donate to nonprofits or support local businesses by purchasing their items,” Pham said. “I’m just taking a more creative spin to helping by selling my creations to raise funds.”

Charms for Smiles went on hold when Pham started college at Cornell. But the business called her back in April as the coronavirus sent her home to Syracuse. This time, she started selling her charms to help local businesses.

Syracuse Clothing Co.is one of the local businesses in the city that Charms for Smiles has supported since restarting. Taylor Sourwine, one of the co-founders and owners of Syracuse Clothing Co., held a fundraiser with Charms for Smiles, where she chose to donate to six businesses.

Pham makes charms specific to the local businesses and organizations she raises money for. The charms she made for Syracuse Clothing Co. are based on its “Spread Love Nothing Else” T-shirt, for example.

Syracuse Clothing Co. gives back to the community by donating a portion of its sales to different nonprofits. The COVID-19 Community Support Fund received all profits from the T-shirt, said Matt Sourwine, the co-founder and owner of Syracuse Clothing Co.

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Pham created pins with the Black Lives Matter movement’s emblem and then sold them to support Raha Syracuse’s GoFundMe page. Courtesy of Bryant Pham

“It’s kind of humbling in a way just knowing all the good that she does, and we were able to be chosen as one of the six companies she wanted to feature,” Matt Sourwine said.

Pham’s passion for doing meaningful work led her to collaborate with Raha Syracuse, a Muslim youth group that does community outreach in the Syracuse area. Following Raha Syracuse’s rally with Black Lives Matter Syracuse, Pham reached out to Raha Syracuse on Instagram to sell charms to raise money for its GoFundMe, said Ayeh Hajjari, one of the members of the group.

The money Charms for Smiles raised went directly to operational costs. Since the initial fundraiser for Raha Syracuse, Pham has continued to support the group, Hajjari said.

Raha Syracuse recently collaborated with the nonprofit We Rise Above the Streets on a “Sandwich Saturday” fundraiser to provide meals to Syracuse’s homeless community, and Pham donated to the GoFundMe.

“When people take the time and take the money to invest in us, it makes us super happy,” Hajjari said. “That means that we’re actually fulfilling our goals.”

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