An organization that started as one Utah couple making hand-carved wooden toys in their garage for their grandchildren has now grown to make and provide toy cars to over one million children across the globe.
The Happy Factory was born out of a love Donna and Charlie Cooley had for their grandchildren. After retiring, Mr Cooley began making wooden cars out of scrap pieces of wood. As he enjoyed making them so much, he soon found himself with more cars than grandchildren to whom to give the toys.
Mrs Cooley explains that they started thinking, "well, what should we do with those?" They visited the Primary Children's Medical Center and from there, they visited the Shriners and the Humanitarian Center.
At first, the Cooleys found it difficult to give the toys away, so certain were the charities that they were trying to sell them. "We had to convince them that, no, we just wanted to give the toys away." As soon as they had convinced them, however, the toys started flying out of their garage-cum-factory.
Word-of-mouth spread quickly about what the Cooleys were achieving their garage, and neighbors and friends quickly began joining them in their efforts to make even more toys.
They soon decided they could achieve more if they became a registered non-profit, and after receiving their official status, they found premises that allowed them to expand into the operation that they are today.
One of The Happy Factory's mottos, created by Mr Cooley, is that they "take some wood that would be wasted, mix it with some time that would be wasted, and make a toy to stimulate a mind so that it won't be wasted."
The volunteers range from children from local youth groups to retired members of the community. Mr Cooley envisioned that, as he was doing, people who had retired would be able to spend their time that would otherwise 'be wasted' volunteering for The Happy Factory.
It offers a pass-time that requires relatively little effort for people who have retired in the area but it also provides an opportunity to socialize that is more and more difficult to come across as people age.
Volunteers come whenever they want -- there is no set schedule and certainly no obligation for the volunteers to help regularly. The Cooleys wanted to keep everything as fun and engaging as possible and to do so, they made sure the volunteers help out when they most want to do so.
Some volunteers do lend their time on a regular basis, though, and their current premises is often filled with people. On average, The Happy Factory has 20 volunteers per day, each coming ready and eager to work away at shaping the hand-made toys.
Designed by Mr Cooley himself, there are five types of car: a jeep, a sedan, a bug, a truck, and a hatchback. The volunteers saw the wood into shape, and then sand the product. Wheels are then attached and the finished product is painted with mineral oil for protection.
Time is not all that is saved, however. As emphasized in Mr Cooley's motto, they use "wood that would be wasted." This wood comes from Timberline Cabinet Doors, Inc., a custom cabinet-maker just around the corner from The Happy Factory.
The wood they use had been going straight to the landfill before it was redirected to The Happy Factory. While the pieces were perhaps smaller than those Mr Cooley had originally been using, Mark Messer, President and CEO of the cabinet company explains that "[Mr Cooley] said 'I've decided to make my patterns fit the wood rather than try to make the wood fit my patterns.'"
With the wood donated to them by Timberline, The Happy Factory is taking advantage of a resource that was previously being completely wasted. Consequently, their only purchases for the construction of the cars are the wheels and axles, mineral oil, and the occasional saw blade, which are supported by donations.
Using such simple ingredients, The Happy Factory has created a service that benefits children and adults alike, and it brings a smile to people's faces every time they think about it.
Sadly, Mr Cooley passed away in 2011 but Mrs Cooley is ensuring that The Happy Factory continues both to live up to his memory and to the mission that he and his wife created.
Mrs Cooley says that "our toys really are the by-product, if you really stop to think about it. Our volunteers are so lovingly kind and want to donate their time for these little toys." However, creating toys for children across the world from wood that would be sent to landfills, is benefiting far more than just the volunteers.
And another of Mr Cooley's mottos summarizes exactly that beautifully: "We may not be able to make a toy for every child in the world who needs one -- but we're going to try!"