NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A room full of people willing to help the homeless crowded an exhibit hall at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds Tuesday. They got a cache of handouts, but this year there was something new.
"These are called eraselets," said Judy Tackett as she passed out blue wrist bracelets that double as erasers.
"I think it's really neat. It's like they found their little niche," said volunteer Kiwanis Hockett of Born Again Church.
Its inventor hopes the "Eraselet" goes far beyond someone's wrist.
"I became a troubled youth," said Nashville-native Bryan Ricci, whose mother had him as a teenager.
By age 15, he was living on the street.
"We butted heads so much that she asked me to leave," he said.
Ricci found adult mentors through Nashville's Oasis Center who taught him valuable skills.
"How to balance a checkbook. How to write a budget. How to use public transportation. How to interview for a job," he said.
Today, with his wife Kimberly by his side, he's become an entrepreneur who got the idea from his daughter who kept losing erasers.
"I said you know what I'm going to do? I'm going to tie this around your wrist and I said we'll call it an eraselet," he said.
They have a patent pending and just took a 500,000 unit order. The Riccis hope one day eraselets will end up on the wrists of millions of school children.
"To use the inside of the band on your thumb and you just simply rub back and forth like a traditional eraser," he said, while demonstrating how his invention works.
Messages, logos and band designs are customizable, but event organizers hope they'll really help erase stereotypes.
"It shows that homeless people and all have gifts and talents and when given the opportunity to put it to use they can make a good contribution to society," Clifton Harris with The Key Alliance that's organizing the fourth annual Project Homeless Connect.
Ricci knows to get an invention like the 'eraselet' out of someone who used to sleep under a bridge just takes a little hope.
"In my case it only took someone to believe in me. To make a difference in my life," he said.
Ten percent of proceeds go to Erase World Hunger, a non-profit the Riccis started to help the homeless. You can buy eraselets at Dollar General Market and LifeWay Christian Stores.
The Project Homeless Connect kicks-off Wednesday morning offering everything from haircuts, ID replacements and job training to as many as 1,500 homeless people. The event runs from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. and will bus the homeless from around Music City to the Fairgrounds.
You can still volunteer by heading to the Fairgrounds Creative Arts Building at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday.