By Laurelle Walsh
After decades working as a health educator, community builder and helping young people navigate the journey from childhood into adulthood, Deb Jones Schuler has embarked on a new venture: The Betty Box Project.
A home-based e-commerce business, The Betty Box Project markets a series of self-care supply boxes for teens and tweens containing personal hygiene products, beauty and grooming supplies, health education literature and birth control.
“Preparation for life’s little mishaps” is the company motto, reflecting Schuler’s belief that providing the right tools and education to kids will help them make good choices in the future and may make adolescence a little less painful, she said.
The “Steady Betty Box,” geared toward adolescent girls, contains 25 items including tampons and pads, first aid kit, sunglasses, deodorant, Duct Tape, condoms and personal lubricant, as well as other teen-friendly items. The “Ready Freddy Box,” for adolescent boys, continues the theme — minus the tampons. Pre-adolescent girls get the “Bloomin’ Betty Box,” which subtracts the birth control items, but adds stickers and temporary tattoos that appeal to a slightly younger set. Supplies are contained in a plain metal lunchbox, ready for personalization, Schuler said.
The boxes “generate great conversations between parents and kids,” said Schuler, who acknowledges that at a cost between $54 and $59, the price point is too high for most teens. Her target customers are parents, grandparents and other adults, she said.
“A lot of my customers will be people who are already in my camp, who have already had the conversation with their kids,” Schuler said.
On the other hand, she recently heard from a 15-year-old-boy who received a Ready Freddy Box from a “cool aunt.” The boy called it “the best present I’ve ever gotten,” said Schuler. “His mom wasn’t comfortable discussing sex, but his aunt recognized the need at his stage of life,” she said.
The Betty Box concept evolved out of “emergency period kits” that Schuler had members of her fifth- and sixth-grade girls’ group make starting in the early 2000s. They were basic kits — sanitary supplies in a Zip-Lock bag — that the girls could keep at school in their backpacks or lockers, Schuler said.
Schuler, who founded Room One in 1998, developed the girls’ group after a community health education assessment revealed the need for extra adult support for teens, she said. Room One went on to sponsor girls’ and boys’ groups that met at Liberty Bell High School for several years.
Schuler also taught the Healthy Sexuality class at Methow Valley Community School, where making the emergency kits became a regular project.
“We began the conversation about what it means to be prepared,” she said.
As Schuler’s nieces Sula and Sophie — “I call them my kids too” — and her son Hank entered junior high and high school, “it became obvious that teenagers needed more than tampons to be prepared,” she said.
Schuler (a cool aunt herself) packed “retro” metal lunch boxes with supplies — especially birth control — that the teens could keep in their cars.
“The boxes helped their friends make good decisions as well … all their friends knew they were there,” Schuler said. “And the kids knew they could come to me for refills.”
Her niece Sophie, now a 21-year-old studying at Rhode Island School of Design, recently sent her aunt a photo of the original kit that she still carries in her car, Schuler said.
Schuler began working on the business plan one year ago after she stepped down from her position as director of the Methow Valley Community School.
She first bounced the Betty Box idea off adults in the Methow Valley and got positive responses, she said. Next, to get more objective feedback than she might have gotten from people she knew in the valley, Schuler presented the business concept to focus groups in Seattle and Portland.
A friend helped Schuler with graphic design and marketing, and in December The Betty Box Project was launched.
Schuler confesses that her guest room can no longer accommodate guests because cases of tampons and pads are stored there. The business has also taken over her son’s travel trailer, the “Betty mobile,” which is parked outside the Twin Lakes-area house. Her 11-year-old daughter Sydney, unfazed by the cases of condoms in the house, recently told her, “Mom, you’ve been talking to me about sexuality since the day I was born,” Schuler recalls.
Tools for responsible choices
Orders may be placed at www.thebettyboxproject.com, where Schuler also posts entries about sexuality and health education on the Betty Box blog. “I watch for what’s trending on sexuality websites,” she said. Recent blog topics have covered teen dating violence, sexual consent, when to talk to your kids about sex, and condom education.
The complete contents of each of the Betty Boxes are described on the website.
Also on the website, customers can place a confidential order for the “Good Times Refill Kit,” which contains 10 condoms, two packages of KY Lube, a box of Altoids and Wet Ones hand wipes, all delivered by U.S. mail in a “discreet” plain envelope, Schuler said. Methow Valley residents interested in saving on shipping costs should contact Schuler by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“When doing research for this project I discovered that lots of stores have their condoms locked up,” Schuler wrote on the blog. “That’s right, to buy a condom (or two) you have to ask the sales clerk to unlock a cabinet and get it for you … If you live in the toolies, options can be severely limited — to make matters more challenging, it’s probably your aunt’s brother’s girlfriend’s mom working the counter — AWKWARD!”
Schuler wants to debunk the argument that if you provide birth control to kids, they’ll go out and have sex. “Research shows that you’re giving kids the tools to make responsible choices,” she said.