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Teen discovers talent for design

Like many other high school seniors, 17-year-old Danielle Jamison has a lot to look forward to: class day, graduation, college.

But Danielle's journey has been more difficult than most. Diagnosed with a developmental disability when she was a toddler, the Bennett High School student began her education at a special school for children with disabilities at age 4.

Fourteen years later, while still a special education student, her future is as bright and shiny as the jewelry she has turned into her own business opportunity.

"I have fun making the jewelry," she said. "In the beginning I felt kind of nervous. I wasn't sure people were going to like it. Now I realize that I do have a talent. People really do love my stuff."

Danielle's road to entrepreneurship started just before Christmas break, when she was given a huge bag of beads by a Martje Hague Bryce, who worked alongside her each Tuesday at the local soup kitchen, Loaves and Fishes, where they both volunteer.

Danielle took the beads and found she had a knack for making jewelry. She brought some of her creations to school and was amazed at the reaction she received.

"Everyone we encountered was shown this beautiful piece of jewelry and was told Danielle was the artist," said her teacher, Anna Klapakis, a special education teacher at Bennett. "The response was overwhelming. Everyone recognized that Danielle had an extraordinary ability at designing jewelry."

Since that time, Danielle has "set up shop" at the school, creating and selling her designs during events such as the Valentine's Day fundraiser and the recent Earth Day celebration.

The next step for Danielle is college. She is expected to be selected as a student in the Buffalo State Transition Program, which Klapakis said is a partnership among Buffalo Public Schools, People Inc. and Buffalo State College.

At the same time, she is looking to expand her jewelry-making success as another step on the road to becoming independent.

To that end, she is looking for a boutique store on a bus route, such as Elmwood or Hertel avenues, that will let her set up her wares on a consignment basis.

"We just need a limited area, 12 inches by 12 inches," Klapakis said. "And a bus stop."

Klapakis is optimistic about Danielle's ability to become independent.

"What a role model she is for other kids with disabilities," she said. "We all have abilities. You just have to discover them."

After next month's graduation, Danielle plans to study fashion design at Buffalo State, along with culinary arts and business.

"It makes me feel wonderful, because I know she can take care of herself," Klapakis said.

When asked how she feels about the changes she is facing as she leaves Bennett High School and its supportive staff, Danielle said she has mixed feelings.

"I feel happy, but at the same time I feel a little bit sad," she said.

Those interested in buying Danielle's jewelry can contact her teacher at Danielle's jewelry also will be for sale Saturday across from the Bidwell Farmers' Market.