MVS middle schooler hosts veterans event
SAGUACHE — When seventh-grader Westlea Tipsword creates a plan of action, like hosting his Veterans Suicide Awareness Walk at Mountain Valley School on March 11, he follows through with the plan.
“If something really comes to my attention and it’s kind of easy to do like this,” Tipsword explained in the Mountain Valley School gym, “then I’ll do it. I could do a lot of things like that, like my business.”
Once Tipsword decided to raise awareness of veteran suicides, he told himself, “OK. Today’s the day I’m going to start it. This is how it’s going to go.”
Although he might be overlooking enormous help from his mother Wanetta, Tipsword acknowledged the people who helped make his event a reality. When he presented his idea for the walk to the Saguache Chamber of Commerce, he met board member and veteran Terry Gillette. In addition to running Gillette’s Trading Post (and Jeep Museum) on Highway 285 in Saguache, Gillette helps maintain the veteran network in the region.
Tipsword also met Michael BonDurant, the Saguache County Veterans Service Officer. BonDurant passed out fliers with his contact information — 719-655-2680 and [email protected]. Another flyer listed warning signs for Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD).
BonDurant also said he wants more veterans to know about the Saguache County Sales Tax Grant Veteran Assistance Program. He encourages vets to call if they need emergency help with necessities, for example, fuel for their vehicle or home.
Tipsword is an honorary member of the Saguache Chamber of Commerce. He started “Generational Homestead Candy and Snacks” almost two years ago. The Saguache Chamber of Commerce website — saguachechamber.org — provides more information about Tipsword’s enterprise.
Under the Young Entrepreneurs category, the website lists students like Tipsword who have honorary chamber status until they graduate. Tipsword’s product page begins with, “We offer a wide variety of freeze-dried sweets that have a unique flavor and texture.” He lists 19 items with descriptions and pictures that show how items grow when freeze-dried.
The Colorado Cottage Foods Act that passed in 2012 has been refined to accommodate foods that can be sold directly to customers without licensing or inspection. Since Tipsword’s freeze-dried products do not contain dairy, his business falls under the Colorado Cottage Foods Act.
The 13-year-old described his production and distribution process.
“I buy these nylon bags from Amazon or eBay or wherever,” Tipsword explained. “Because they’re cheap bags and they’re just what we need for the candy.”
“Basically,” the middle schooler continued, “I use any type of candy, like a snickers bar. I cut it up, put it in the freeze dryer, put it in the bag, and sell it.”
Visitors at the 2022 Hollyhock Festival in Saguache had the opportunity to buy Tipsword’s unique sweets. After his first event — Monte Vista Farmer’s Market — the middle schooler now works at a number of events and other festivals throughout the year. He also sells his product at Mountain Valley School. Options include a variety of taffies, candy bars, and different kinds of skittles.
“It still profits me,” Tipsword explained. “That’s why I’m still doing it.”
Like a true entrepreneur, the 13-year-old has a vision. He said, “My goal for the future? Down the line, I’d like to have a warehouse.”
The smallest freeze-drying units can run thousands of dollars, so Tipsword is fortunate to borrow time on smaller equipment today. He described refrigerator-sized units that run six figures. He wants 20 of them in his future warehouse. Instead of cutting up candy for life, he said he might sell the business at that point and do something else.
A long-time member of 4-H, Tipsword learned about business early. This year, he had to come up with a new revenue plan because the avian flu hit hard and ruined his plans for the chickens he raised.
On top of schoolwork and playing games of chess, Tipsword also devotes time to raising therapy dogs. He is currently training a 14-week-old puppy named Chloe.
His involvement in 4-H also requires significant time and effort. Without the support of his mother, however, he might not be as productive. She suggested creating a freeze-dried process and helped direct her son with all his projects. She swept the MVS gym to close the event. A substitute teacher in Center, she also distributes Tipword’s candy at the school.