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Tri-Valley Hero: Bryan Ware, Thinking outside the crayon box

Danville man receives Environmental Stewardship award for The Crayon Initiative

Bryan Ware of The Crayon Initiative works to melt and mold new crayons from the donation piles. (Photo by Ryan J. Degan)

Clean up the planet and make kids happy: This is the mission of Danville resident Bryan Ware.

It's a mission he has been able to carry out by saving toxic crayons from landfills and safely donating them to sick children in need all across the country with his locally based nonprofit, The Crayon Initiative.

President and founder of The Crayon Initiative, Ware drew inspiration for the idea of the nonprofit while discussing how much being a teacher was going to cost his wife Marissa that year. In 2011, state funding had been cut to her school's art budget, and Ware was brainstorming how to help supply his wife's students with art supplies.

"My wife is a schoolteacher. I grew up in a household of a teacher, and school was not my thing," Ware said, chuckling. "Art was what kept me in school. So that was the jumping off point."

While pondering the problem at hand one night during a dinner out, Ware looked around the restaurant and, seeing a potential solution, he asked, "What happens to these crayons after we leave?"

After taking part in some research, Ware did not like the answers he found.

Due to sanitation concerns, most restaurants are forced to throw out crayons after one use. Sent to landfills, these crayons turn into a toxic waxy sludge that pollute the Earth and never fully biodegrade. According to The Crayon Initiative estimates, every year there are half a million pounds of crayons thrown into landfills.

Founded just four years ago, the initiative has already put quite a dent in this number. While accepting the Tri-Valley Heroes award for Environmental Stewardship last week, Ware announced that the nonprofit had saved more than 200,000 pounds of crayons from being sent to landfills.

Eventually the initiative grew large enough that crayons started coming in from a variety of donors, ranging from corporate fundraisers and schools to individual envelopes sent by students. Ware said they even receive crayons from around the world, including from communities in Canada, Japan and the United Kingdom.

"All around the world they send (crayons) to us because they want to help their environments as well. It's pretty cool to see how the communities in different countries get involved in what we are doing," he said.

After finding that supplying children's hospitals was a more efficient and effective way to provide children in need with art supplies, the initiative has seen incredible growth. In four years Ware has helped provide crayons to over 150,000 patients across 240 children's hospitals throughout the country. In September, the nonprofit officially became a crayon provider to every registered Children's Hospital Association location -- in all 50 states.

"The overhead costs go down the more crayons we make in (our Danville) facility, but our logistics go up. That's the big problem with the growth we've been having," he said. "We're doing great, but we are spending more money to cover more ground."

Ensuring that no part of the crayon goes to waste, the crayon's paper wrapping is donated to Duraflame and used in logs as a type of fire starter.

Ever modest, Ware was quick to acknowledge the thousands of volunteers from around the Tri-Valley as the movers and shakers who have made The Crayon Initiative's successes possible.

"We can't do what we are doing without the community," Ware said. "We have 700 to 1,000 individuals who come in to help us every month. It is certainly not just me."

Ware said right now he is staying focused on how to run the initiative in as effective a way as possible, but he acknowledged that there is still plenty of room for the initiative to grow and reach even more communities -- particularly communities overseas.

"(Going international) is definitely in the realm of possibility. There's no plan in terms of how to execute that yet, but it is something on the horizon for us to figure out how to do," Ware said.

Hero FYI

* The first hospital that The Crayon Initiative donated art supplies to was UCSF Medical Center.

* Ware first moved to Danville in the fifth grade and has called the town home ever since.

* According to Ware, the most popular crayon colors the initiative receives are red, blue and green. He says this is most likely due to restaurants providing patrons with a limited number of colors.

* In 1994, he graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo earning a Bachelor of Science in industrial technology with a concentration in management.

* He is also the founder of WareWorks, a local consulting firm that specializes in packaging and product design as well as the manufacturing process.

* Last year, his wife Marissa Ware, a second-grade teacher at John Baldwin Elementary in Danville, was selected as Contra Costa County Teacher of the Year and advanced to the California Teacher of the Year finals in Sacramento.

* The Crayon Initiative is located at 155 Railroad Ave. Suite E in downtown Danville. For more information, visit thecrayoninitiative.org.

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