MINNEAPOLIS -- Turning a stubby number two pencil into a 1972 Gran Torino might seem like the work of a magician.
But it's not a magic trick. It's part of a fundraising project called the Big Trade Up, a way for Chad Commers and Tony DelDotto to raise money for Mind the Future, their scholarship program, which promises big college scholarships to students at Anwatin Middle School in Minneapolis when they're in sixth grade.
"We knew that we had to come up with a real big idea because traditional fundraising in today's market is pretty tough," DelDotto said.
One of their scholarship recipients donated a number two pencil in January with the hope of trading it for items of increasing value, until they got a house worth $250,000, which could be sold for scholarship money.
After 17 trades, they have the Gran Torino, which is worth about $10,000 to $15,000 dollars, Commers said.
Here are the trades made so far:
Trade 1: Reusable Lunds grocery bag
Trade 2: Two Japanese bowls
Trade 3: Haircut
Trade 4: Fancy cake
Trade 5: $50 gift card
Trade 6: Painting
Trade 7: Minnesota Wild jersey
Trade 8: Minnesota Wild tickets
Trade 9: Professional golf lessons
Trade 10: Signed Gophers hockey jersey and stick
Trade 11: Private flight
Trade 12: Gold cross necklace
Trade 13: Black lab puppy
Trade 14: Target Field tour with Twins president Dave St. Peter
Trade 15: Nashville County Music Association festival package
Trade 16: Yamaha motorcycle
Trade 17: 1972 Gran Torino
The puppy donation was most memorable because it was given to a veteran who just returned from Iraq.
"I think we touched a lot of hearts with that trade," DelDotto said. "It sure was a lot of fun for us."
In exchange for giving the puppy to the vet, Pheasants Forever got Twins president Dave St. Peter to donate a Target Field tour and lunch. Tony Winkler, who is good friends with DelDotto and Commers, took the tour and donated the country music festival package, which is worth about $2,000.
The tour gave Winkler a chance to play his band's Twins-themed song, "We are the Twins Fans," for St. Peter.
Lee McNurlin, an elementary school teacher in Cannon Falls, took the country music festival package and donated her 2002 Yamaha motorcycle.
"It's not so much about what you're getting, it's about what you're giving," McNurlin said.
Weeks later, someone took her motorcycle and donated the Gran Torino.
"It was so exciting for me to have my motorcycle traded for such a beautiful car," she said. "Wow!"
The progress of the Big Trade Up impresses Frank Rypa, who donated the original pencil. Rypa, who will be a sophomore this fall at Southwest High School in Minneapolis, was Mind the Future's first scholarship recipient. He'll get a $10,000 scholarship when he heads to college.
"It's a pat on the back telling me, 'C'mon, Frank, keep going," Rypa said.
The Big Trade Up was inspired by a similar effort in 2005. A Canadian blogger started with a red paperclip and traded up to a house in exactly one year.
"We will reach our goal," Commers said. "I have no doubt in my mind."
Perhaps the toughest trades are yet to come, but Commers and DelDotto are unafraid. Their attitudes, like their trades, are looking up.
"People have brought us this far and I think they'll bring us the rest of the way," Commers said. "We're here to work for it."
(Copyright 2010 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)