Photo by Stopped Down Studio
To say Donovan Smith has been busy the past four years is a bit of an understatement. The 14-year-old entrepreneur behind Donovan Discovers has been making soap, selling it, and donating a portion of the profits to help homeless people in Albuquerque, NM. He and his mother Casey used to be homeless, so when he started selling soap he made a promise to always give back to those in need. Read more about how he got started in this interview.
People have taken notice of Donovan’s generosity and incredible work ethic. He’s appeared on local TV stations, in newspapers, and even People magazine. This summer he got a call about another interview, but this one was a bit different than the others. Although he thought the interview was for a local TV station, it was actually for Returning the Favor with Mike Rowe. You can watch the full segment here.
Appearing on Returning the Favor
The creators of the show surprised Donovan and Casey with a store, a personal message from Russell Simmons, and a new car. Donovan and Casey were shocked when they found out – Casey even said they walked by the store a few times without realizing it.
“I was completely speechless,” Donovan said. “What you see on the show is an honest reaction. It was so amazing.”
The store is a soapmaker’s dream. It has a colorful design, plenty of storage, a studio to create, and a lounge area where Donovan can relax. It’s fully stocked with Bramble Berry products like melt and pour bases and fragrance oils. When the producers contacted us to help, we jumped at the chance and donated a year’s worth of supplies.
“Donovan has been working hard for the past four years to make a difference and inspire people, and we’ve never had anyone go out of their way to do that for us,” Casey said. “It’s completely shocking and amazing that they thought so much of my son to give him that gift.”
Donovan in his new store.
Casey really appreciates having a car as well. She suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, so buses with a lot of passengers and noise were overwhelming. Not to mention when she and Donovan would donate soap, they’d have to transport anywhere from 1,000-4,000 bars on the bus.
“It really did change the quality of my life,” Casey said. “Donovan too – I can get him places he needs to go.”
Keeping the secret from Casey and Donovan was no easy task. Kellie Tillerson got to help plan and coordinate the surprise. She’s the director of employment services at St. Martin’s HopeWorks and has known Casey and Donovan since 2012. She said the crew was so kind and completely invested in making the whole experience amazing for Casey and Donovan. Toward the end, it was hard not to spill the beans.
“I specifically remember a post that Casey had put on Facebook a few days before the reveal,” Kellie said. “She seemed so discouraged that one day and it took everything in me to keep from telling her that by the end of the week, things were going to improve beyond her wildest dreams.”
Kellie and Donovan at the store.
Kellie said it couldn’t have happened to better people. She’s gotten to see them transition from homelessness to owning their own business and thriving. And of course they haven’t forgotten St. Martin’s help – they’ve donated around 15,000 bars of soap, diapers, toothbrushes, blankets, and volunteer hours serving food and helping in the clothing room. Even appearing on the show helped St. Martin’s. Kellie said since Casey and Donovan’s appearance, they’ve gained new volunteers and gotten a few monetary donations.
“It made my heart smile that Donovan and Casey were finally going to get the recognition they deserve, and that they would be given the opportunity to realize his dreams of having a store and being able to give back in an even larger way to those in need,” she said.
Life since the show
Owning a store is a completely different experience for Donovan, as he used to sell his products mostly online. He said it’s awesome interacting with customers in person. They’ve even had people come from as far as Texas and Missouri just to meet Donovan.
Donovan stopping for a picture with customers from Indiana.
Casey said another thing that’s taking some getting used to is the increase in orders. They’re finding a way to balance hundreds of orders with a little help from Bramble Berry CEO and Founder Anne-Marie.
“We’ve been working on budgeting, creating a media plan (like a press release), and spending time figuring out how to sustain his business once the launch is done,” Anne-Marie said. “There’s a lot of attention on him during launch month, and we want to keep that good vibe going long after the cameras are gone.”
She enjoys the opportunity to share what she’s learned with Donovan. She said she’s made plenty of mistakes along the way and was fortunate to have generous mentors who helped her get back on her feet.
“His organization, drive, and passion impress me so much. He has so much wisdom for such a young person,” Anne-Marie said. “I know he’s going to continue to do great things, and this is just the start for him.”
Donovan will soon be taking on his own mentoring role. He’s been hiring day laborers from the homeless shelter to help with orders, and will be hiring and training an at-risk youth. It was important to Casey and Donovan to hire someone who was homeless or at-risk so they have an opportunity to get back on their feet.
“This person will get to learn at their own pace,” Casey said. “It’s going to be an amazing experience.”
Peacekeepers Homeschool Group stopped by the store to help make donation soaps.
For now, Donovan’s main focus will be keeping up with the increase in orders and keeping the store running smoothly. As for what the future holds, they’re going to enjoy the opportunities presented and meet them head on like they always have. No matter how much their business grows, one thing will always stay the same.
“It’s always a priority for me to help the homeless,” Donovan said. “No matter where I’m at.”