Photos by Alli Anastas
When 20-year-old Northeastern undergrad Ariella Sharf decided to take her spring 2013 semester off to recover from personal dilemmas faced in the fall, her priority was her mental health.
“I would just sit around and do nothing, and for a while I needed that,” Sharf said of her time at home. As time passed and she started to feel better, though, boredom ensued and Sharf found herself occupying her time with arts and crafts.
“I always find pennies everywhere and I’ve been collecting them for years in a cup in my room,” she said. On a creative whim, Sharf poked two holes on either side of a penny with a drill press and looped a string through them to make a bracelet.
In less than a year, that idea turned into a full-fledged operation called Heads Up for Charity. After putting up a picture on Instagram, Sharf said consumer interest was immediate. “Everything just snowballed,” she said. “I couldn’t even tell you what happened, [Heads Up] just exploded one day.” Sharf compared the bracelets’ instant popularity in her hometown of Buffalo, N.Y., to the popularity of Silly Bandz. “Everyone wanted one at the same time,” she said.
The success of Heads Up made Sharf a full-fledged business owner while still working toward her college degree. “I’m in the process of finding manufacturers for different things and outsourcing, but it’s really hard for me to balance that while I’m also a full-time student,” she said. “For now, I’m kind of doing everything on my own.”
The profits from her apparel and jewelry, which are sold on her website (www.headsup4charity.com), at trunk shows and in two boutiques in New York, goes to a variety of different charities that are important to Sharf.
“The first charity I thought of was for mental health awareness to try and get rid of the stigma of mental health in society,” she said. “After that, I was just brainstorming charities that I had donated to before or volunteered for… or people would give me recommendations.”
Aside from mental health, the causes that Heads Up for Charity donates to include diabetes, pediatric cancer, breast cancer and brain cancer. Sharf herself has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and has openly admitted to feeling suicidal, so the priority has always been geared toward mental health awareness. So far, Sharf said, more than $6,500 has been donated to about 20 different charities.
Heads Up for Charity can now be found on Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and Sharf said that social media has helped tremendously in spreading the word.
“We had an event yesterday at the College of Charleston. Tri Delta [sorority] got custom [Heads Up] shirts made and a portion of the proceeds from everything sold at their trunk show would go to whatever their philanthropy was,” said Sharf. “They took over the [Heads Up] Instagram that day and that got a lot of people to follow.”
Brand representatives at several institutions on the East Coast post to the social media accounts and get points that can then be used toward merchandise sold in the Heads Up store in return. After graduating, Sharf hopes to hire more employees, expand to the West Coast and release more apparel since her passion lies more with clothing design than jewelry.
An important step toward that goal is Heads Up’s participation in a mental health awareness tour to different educational institutions, for which Donald Trump is already a sponsor. “My siblings are in high school right now and my sister will say, ‘Have you heard of this guy who just committed suicide?’” Sharf said. “It’s really sad because before you leave high school they have all these speakers come in and talk about drugs and what to look for in a college, but no one ever comes in and talks about mental health.”
Above all, Sharf wants to urge her peers to feel comfortable speaking up about their pain. Sharf said that hopefully in the next year, Heads Up for Charity will go on the road and teach kids and young adults about perseverance, strength and acceptance.
Sharf was recognized by Northeastern as the recipient of January’s I AM A HUSKY award, signifying that her leadership and entrepreneurial spirit is a noteworthy component of this campus’ community. “People probably feel really uncomfortable when I talk about what I’ve gone through,” said Sharf. “But at the same time, there’s always someone who says they’re going through the same thing. The one thing I would tell people is to speak up.”