Sea Cliff resident Andrei Bogolubov said that his daughter, Sonja Rose, has long had a creative streak. Her mother, Sharon, is an art teacher at Manhasset Middle School, which might help explain why Sonja Rose loved to draw from an early age. In particular, Andrei noted a character she created named Happy Heart, a heart with legs, arms and a smiling face.
The motif extended into the work Sonja Rose, 17, began creating and selling in June: heart-themed jewelry for a nonprofit she called HEARTware. All of the proceeds from the sale of her jewelry go to another nonprofit called Russian Gift of Life, which sends cardiology experts from around the world to Russia to perform heart surgery on children there who cannot afford treatment.
Sonja Rose has a special connection to Russia, because her grandparents on her father’s side were the children of emigrants who left the country not long after the 1917 revolution. They moved to Connecticut as adults in the 1950s, where Andrei grew up. And Andrei and Sharon spent eight years in Russia, where Andrei ran an advertising firm. They moved back to the United States before they had Sonja Rose, but contemplated returning to Russia when she was 5, taking her with them on a weeklong trip there, and even looking at preschools.
Over the past four months, Sonja Rose has offered her jewelry at fairs across Nassau County, including the Garden City, Merrick and Eisenhower Park craft fairs. She sold her products at the Sea Cliff Mini Mart on Oct. 5, and at the Oct. 19 Homecoming game at North Shore High School, where she is a senior. So far, she has made roughly $2,000 for Russian Gift of Life, and is aiming for $3,000 by year’s end.
“She’s just got a big heart, and she’s a beautiful person inside and out,” Sharon said. “I think this whole thing that she’s doing is wonderful, and it shows who she is.”
Sophie Pompea, a family friend of the Bogolubovs, is the executive director of Russian Gift of Life, which was founded in the late 1980s. According to Pompea, the organization has helped save 1,000 young Russian lives since then, and welcomes Sonja Rose’s help. Pompea has given her promotional materials about the nonprofit to display in the booths she sets up, and said that she is not surprised by Sonja Rose’s giving nature.
Sonja Rose said she was inspired to create HEARTware in June, when she and her family went to New Orleans to be with her grandmother Virginia Kanicka, who was being treated for a heart condition. Sonja Rose was impressed with the care provided by the doctors, and she wanted to do more, so she began crafting necklaces, bracelets and earrings out of wire. She sold her pieces for $10 to $35 each. Her mother helped her with the federal and state tax forms necessary to create a nonprofit.
“My daughter was inspired by something that was a very difficult thing for our family,” said Sharon, “and something good came out of it.”
Since Sonja Rose already had a connection to Russian Gift of Life, she knew how she could help people who needed it, and loved the organization’s small scale. “It’s a smaller organization that we’re donating the money to,” she said, “so you can see the impact of where your money’s going.”
Over the summer, she widened the variety of her creations to include more colors and styles, and she is now crafting rings as well. To date, she has made more than 300 pieces.
Sonja Rose is now in the midst of filling out college applications. She said she is unsure what she would like to study, but she is interested in biochemistry — and perhaps business, wanting to know more about running nonprofits. In the meantime, she said, she is committed to keeping HEARTware going and helping as many people as she can.
Her products can be viewed at her Instagram account, @heartwarejewelry, and she is working on setting up an Etsy shop.