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Making a Lot of Scents; Pinkerton Student Chosen to Develop Perfume in France

Editor's Note: The following article is reprinted courtesy of the Eagle-Tribune, MA, June 15, 2007.

Derry--Pinkerton Academy sophomore Stephanie O'Donnell will spend the next several days in France making perfume.

The 16-year-old from Derry, who is visually impaired, will join four other teens who are blind or have low vision for a perfume-making workshop at L'Occitane in Provence. The other teens are from New York, Maryland and Nevada.

The five students were chosen from a pool of about 60 who applied to the American Foundation for the Blind for the chance to attend the summer workshop for 14- to 16-year-olds.

All five leave tomorrow for Provence and will stay through Thursday, developing their own perfumes, along with bath and body products. They will also learn about the scents and aromatic plants of Provence--a region in southern France on the Mediterranean Sea.

O'Donnell, an honour roll student at Pinkerton, said she loves makeup and that her mom has to tear her away from the makeup and perfume aisles in stores. Her mother, Carol, is going to France with her.

"I like girlie things like that," O'Donnell said.

L'Occitane started the summer workshop in 1998 for French students with visual impairments, but later expanded it to include American students after partnering with the American Foundation for the Blind. The first trip for American students was in 2000.

The partnership began after the foundation awarded the body products manufacturer its Access Award in 2000 for putting braille on products, said Kelly Parisi, vice president of communications for the foundation.

Olivier Baussan, the company's founder, was inspired to create the workshop when he saw a blind woman smell his perfumes and wanted to help visually impaired teens explore their senses, according to the AFB.

While in Provence, O'Donnell's schedule is packed with meetings and classes with company representatives, including a perfumer, Parisi said. The teens learn about the chemical properties of plants, identify them by smell and touch, and make products in the classroom.

They also go to fields to identify more plants and flowers, and experience a lavender harvest, she added. In the factory, the students learn how to turn plants into essential oils.

O'Donnell is already thinking about the perfume she will make. So far, she's thinking of a vanilla raspberry perfume, and has received suggestions from classmates, such as incorporating the smell of rain. She will call her perfume "Oowee2U," which she said means "a hug to you." It comes from the sound she would make as a child when she hugged her mom, "oowee."

In addition to the chance to make perfume and see France, Parisi said it is also an opportunity for the students to interact with other teens who are blind or have low vision. For many, including O'Donnell, they go to mainstream schools and do not often interact with others who have vision impairments, she added.

O'Donnell said she was excited to apply because she thought it would be a good experience and a chance to visit France. She submitted her application in March and completed a telephone interview with a representative from the foundation.

In her essay, O'Donnell said she talked about her work as the manager of the junior varsity cheerleading squad at Pinkerton. She said she's met new people, made friends, and gained a new perspective on the sport. She plans to try out for cheerleading this fall.

Caitlin McFeely, communications coordinator for the foundation, said O'Donnell's work with the cheerleading squad was part of the reason she stood out among the other applicants. "She seemed like a strong and determined person," McFeely said.

O'Donnell lives in Derry with her mother, stepfather Joseph Guerin, and younger brother Christopher, 12.

L'Occitane pays for the flights and accommodations for the participants and their chaperones.

For more information about the American Foundation for the Blind or the summer workshop, visit: www.afb.org