Anthony Joseph Bellabona walked into his sixth grade shop class after another frustrating day. School never came easy for him, but he felt the frustration melt away as he entered the class. AJ liked this class because it was hands-on and different from all the other classes at school that he struggled with. As the teacher introduced the new pewter and molding unit, AJ focused on the instructions, finding it easy to pay attention to the lesson.
After the lecture, AJ began working with the pewter. The final result was a pewter casting that lay in the palm of his hand. AJ loved the pewter molding unit, and even found himself visiting the shop class during his free time to cast more pieces. With his new found passion, AJ finally found himself excited to go to school.
AJ Bellabona is now a junior at Oyster River High School. He is a hockey player, an older brother, and a young entrepreneur. Since that sixth grade shop class, Bellabona has expanded his passion for casting and has become a professional jeweler with his own business and trademarked logo.
“After the pewter unit in school, AJ convinced us to get him an equipment kit to melt pewter,” explained Stacey Bellabona, AJ’s mother and business partner. Stacey plays an important role in Bellabona’s business. She manages orders, supplies, marketing, and sales. As his mother, her main focus is supporting Bellabona’s education.
While Bellabona is dedicating his time to craft jewelry, he still has to face the struggles that come with school. Bellabona lives with dyslexia, which makes school very challenging for him. “AJ had a lot of avoidance tendencies. He didn’t want to sit in school and found listening to teachers giving a lesson difficult,” said Stacey Bellabona. “Crafting [jewelry] is an outlet for him, as he has another thing to look forward to. Making jewelry gave him a new sense of confidence.”
Bellabona recalled that elementary school was definitely the hardest for him. He didn’t like having to leave class and do things differently than the other students. Once he got into middle school there was more freedom involved in the curriculum, but before that Bellabona really didn’t enjoy school. “In normal reading classes it took a lot longer for me to read and I had a hard time staying at the same pace as everyone else,” Bellabona reflected.
Bellabona’s parents aren’t the only ones who support his education and jewelry making, as he has two siblings who are proud to call him their brother. “We support him at home and help advertise [his jewelry]. We like to watch him while he makes stuff, too,” said Reese Bellabona.
Although Bellabona has found a way to fuel his creativity, he knows that there are many people struggling with the same condition. “In seventh grade, I met this guy through school who ran an organization for kids with dyslexia. I decided to contribute to his organization,” explained Bellabona. He has pledged to donate a percentage of all AJ Made sales to non-profit organizations whose mission supports youth struggling with learning differences. He even shows his company’s dedication to supporting those with dyslexia by reversing the “J” in the AJ Made logo.
Bellabona continues to build his company with the help of his family and supporters. In February of 2019, he received the trademark approval for his company’s logo. This is a big step for Bellabona and his company. Bellabona said he plans to spend this summer in his studio, dedicating his time to designing more pieces.
Long-time customer of AJ Made, Alyson Mueller, made her first purchase in 2017. Bellabona set a stone from a beach in Maine on a bangle for Mueller. “I think he has done a remarkable job [with his company]. It’s been really fun to watch him grow as a person while doing this,” said Mueller. Not only does Mueller like Bellabona’s style of jewelry, but she is also happy to know that a portion of her purchase will go to an organization focused on helping children.
“One of my fondest memories,” Stacey Bellabona recalled, “was when AJ first got his pewter casting materials. He made a solid pewter heart for me and I couldn’t believe it. I was so proud.”
AJ stood on his deck, as he melted down pewter with his new casting materials. It was a cold February night, and AJ was making something special for his mother. He was going to make a heart charm to give to her on Valentine’s Day. AJ had carved the mold for the heart himself, just as he had learned to do in his shop class.
AJ’s father helped while he cast the charm. Now that the pewter was completely melted, AJ poured the thick liquid into the heart mold. The pewter slowly filled the mold and AJ stopped as it reached the top. They left the mold to solidify overnight and AJ went to bed, anxious to give the final product to his mother.
The next day, AJ slowly broke away the mold to reveal a shiny, metal heart. He polished the charm and prepared it for his mother. AJ attached a hoop and leather cord to the charm to make it into a necklace. He felt a sense of pride and accomplishment as the smile spread across his mom’s face when she opened the gift he had made for her.
Bellabona recently traveled to New York City to begin working with a casting company. He hopes to mass produce casts of his original heart charm mold. Using a casting company will open his business up to a much wider scale of buyers. “When I was in New York I was able to get a few of the pieces I brought cast and manufactured,” said Bellabona. He hopes this new partnership will help grow his company.
Bellabona’s jewelry can be found in several local stores, including Making Faces in Portsmouth, NH. “We began selling AJ’s pieces as I know his family and was impressed with his dedication to this passion at such a young age, along with channeling his dyslexia into something so inspiring for people,” said store owner, Annie Loomis. “Every time he makes a new piece or collection you can see his style is evolving.” Because Bellabona’s jewelry is sold in Portsmouth, his mother explained that occasionally she will see people she has never met before wearing AJ Made jewelry.
Bellabona’s success has come quickly. In May of 2017, he was featured in a New Hampshire Chronicle episode showcasing young entrepreneurs. On the show, Bellabona discussed his story and presented his dedication to the craft in front of the community. Bellabona and his parents openly discussed how making jewelry has become a creative outlet for AJ; one that has relieved some of the pressures he faces academically.
Bellabona has obviously come a long way from where he first began just five years ago. He may have found success but, more importantly, has found a lifelong passion in crafting jewelry, and he is using his success to help others who struggle with learning differences.
Bellabona’s story shows how he was able to deal with an obstacle by finding a passion in something he loved. The example he sets is like a mold for other students. That mold can be used by those struggling in school or trying to find a passion that makes them happy.
More on AJ Bellabona’s story and products can be provided on his website attached in the link below.