By Leila Atassi Advance Ohio Media, Cleveland
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) To encourage a young girl's entrepreneurial spirit, the head of an after-school program invited her to add her inventory to a table where snacks are sold, and before long, the student had doubled her slime business. Yes, this 12-year-old makes and sells her own slime!
Pouring and stirring, then pouring and stirring some more. Queen Ona Korper works with the precision of a baker, masterfully combining ingredients to achieve a perfect consistency -- or perhaps a mad scientist, mixing a volatile chemical concoction in pursuit of world domination.
As it turns out, she's a 12-year-old girl making "slime."
The sticky, squishy, stretchy goop is so popular among young kids and middle-schoolers, it has become an all-out cultural craze. And Queen Ona is among the very best around at producing it, often adding coloring, glitter, sequins or beads to make her batches stand out.
Her slime is so good in fact, that classmates at her East Side charter school have been willing to pay for it -- $1 per two-ounce container of the stuff.
Queen Ona banked about $60 in just her first three weeks of business, a substantial sum for a girl living on the edge of poverty.
Bridgette Smith, who runs the Learning Center at the Rainbow Terrace subsidized housing complex, where Queen Ona attends an after-school program most days, noticed the slime gaining popularity among the kids. To encourage Queen Ona's entrepreneurial spirit, Bridgette invited the girl to add her inventory to a table where snacks are sold, and before long, she had doubled her slime business.
On this day, Queen Ona is taking her brand to a new level -- teaching a "slime clinic" to a throng of kids at the Learning Center. Crowded around her, they peer over her shoulders as she eyeballs portions of the key ingredients -- Elmer's glue, contact solution and shaving gel.
She lets kids take turns stirring buckets of slime with popsicle sticks; occasionally she peeks in on their work, adding a squirt of contact solution or an extra squeeze of glue. She doesn't bother measuring. When the batch is ready, Queen Ona just knows.
Her mom, Contessa Korper, has always found her daughter's obsession amusing. She would smirk and roll her eyes whenever Queen Ona would quietly enter their kitchen and pull from the refrigerator a large plastic bowl filled with slime, just to squish it in her fist or hold its smooth, gelatinous texture against her cheek.
"I just don't get it," Contessa would say under her breath, then reminding Queen Ona to keep the slime off the furniture or rugs.
For Christmas, Queen Ona asked for only two things: She wanted her family to wear matching pajamas on Christmas Eve (an adorably undeniable request.) And she wanted more materials to make slime. Contessa indulged both of those wishes.
In late February, when Contessa and her four kids moved from the King Kennedy public housing projects to a refurbished home they bought through Greater Cleveland Habitat for Humanity, Queen Ona's slime supplies made the move, too.
Contessa was thrilled that their new home included a basement, where her daughter could make slimy messes to her heart's content. That is, until Contessa found that some of her new mixing bowls had been recruited for use in Queen Ona's basement "slime factory."
Here at the Learning Center slime clinic, Queen Ona is in her element -- and Contessa is proud. She stands on the sidelines, feeding her daughter supplies as needed, managing the crowd, or helping to spoon the goo into small plastic containers for kids to take home.
It's clear to both Queen Ona and Contessa that the slime has become more than just a quirky interest or a funny and charming generational rift between mother and daughter. It has sparked a deep motivation in the 6th-grader, tapping her potential in a way that is rare and inspiring in this impoverished East Side neighborhood.
As the clinic concludes, Queen Ona begins to clean up. She smiles for a photo, holding up containers of her product.
Gobs of light blue slime cling to her forearms and to her fingernails, each nail painted a different color.
She tells the grown-ups in the room that this is the start of her business career, that she will be an entrepreneur one day. Just wait and see. A handful of younger kids linger and listen.
In pink letters across Queen Ona's T-shirt are the words, "Girls will change the world."
(A Greater Cleveland is a project of cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer. Because of the sensitive family matters discussed in this series, we have provided the people we write about anonymity and are using pseudonyms to identify them. See the entirety of our project by clicking here.
A Greater Cleveland is a call to action to the community to help remove the barriers to success faced by Cleveland children in poverty. We ask that you consider giving an hour a week to lift someone from the multigenerational poverty that our series examines. This would involve participating in a program called Open Table)