St. Johnsbury Boy Creates Soda Company To Raise Money For Autism

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(Host) If you’re feeling thirsty and you happen to live in the Northeast Kingdom you might try "Kent’s Soda," a soft drink developed by a nine-year old entrepreneur with autism. 

Following a recent media blitz, Kent Melville’s company is searching for a national distributor and market.

As VPR’s Charlotte Albright reports, it all started when Kent decided to launch a business that could help other people with autism.

(Kent Melville) "Well, I think we better start with the whole stories."

(Albright)  Surrounded by cases of lemonade, orange, raspberry-lime, root bear, cream, and grape soda, the bright-eyed, the fast-talking nine-year old takes a seat at the head of the table, happily poses for photographs, and recalls how his company grew from a front-yard lemonade stand.  Kent’s Plan A was a restaurant.

(Kent Melville) "I talked to my dad about it, he said we didn’t have the money, so I thought of a back-up plan, a soda company, with lemonade also, and he said no, but once he heard about it to help kids with autism, then he couldn’t resist it."

(Albright)  Aaron Melville is an attorney and father of five who sits on a couple of  non-profit boards. He also serves as a Mormon bishop.  He was understandably hesitant to take on another challenge.  But Kent kept selling the idea of sharing profits with a club for people with autism where he’s made lots of friends. He functions at the high end of the spectrum of this brain disorder.  Kent and his father took his idea to a small business incubator at Lyndon State College. By this spring, the soda, which is bottled in New Hampshire, was selling well at a Maple Festival and a Thai Restaurant in St. Johnsbury.

(Aaron Melville) "Kent continues to sell soda in our front yard and two weeks ago we were really surprised to find that Kent had gone viral-somebody had taken a picture of him and all of a sudden we’re world-wide."

(Albright) Starting with the online news site, the Huffington Post. Kent is excited by all the media attention, yet seems not all that surprised by success. Sometimes during the interview, his mother Michelle has to wrap her arms around him and calm him down a bit.

(Michelle Melville)"Kent has been Kent from day one. I think the one change I’ve seen in him is his view towards money."

(Albright) He now understands that you have to plow some of your profits back into your business to help it grow. But the even bigger lesson, his dad says, is about coming out of your shell.

(Aaron Melville) "You know, with the disability he tends to be a little more insular in a lot of ways but now this has focused hum to develop the social skills necessary to really reach out and sell product and explain, just like we are doing today, explain what it is that he’s trying to do."

(Albright) And what he’s trying to do goes way beyond selling soda. His long-term goal is to help other people like him acquire the social skills that he’s developing, as his company grows. Meanwhile, his family is trying to figure out their next step.

For VPR News, I’m Charlotte Albright, in St. Johnsbury.

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