As the daughter of an LAFD fire captain injured in the line of duty, thirteen-year-old Lillie Vehling knows the importance of strong family ties. She has made it her business to provide the cords. Paracords, that is.

Currently a middle school student in Chatsworth, California, this young social entrepreneur seized the opportunity to pitch a project for a school contest: to make and distribute paracords for a dollar a piece, with all proceeds going to benefit our firefighter charity.

Paracords are woven bracelets made from the same nylon cord used in parachutes that also function as wearable tools that can be used in an emergency. Nick-named “survival bracelets,” adventurists use them for numerous things such as tying branches for shelter or weaving fishing nets.

“I first learned about these bracelets when I volunteered with Operation Gratitude,” she noted.

Impressively, Lillie’s project was one of only 25 business ideas chosen out of a pool of 80 submissions. She and her friends opened their business during the school lunch break for three straight days. With the help of a small group of friends and family, working 21 hours, they handcrafted the unique inventory and sold out each day. Her storefront featured a customized, firefighter-themed display with a spin wheel of prizes to draw in customers. They successfully raised $1,200!

“My friends and I made the paracords in different colors and patterns,” she explained, “and some people bought two or more.”

Lillie chose to donate the money to Widows & Orphans because the Vehling family has received the much-needed care and support the fund provides to LAFD families. When she was four years old her dad, Derek Vehling, now retired from the LAFD, sustained a severe spinal injury which resulted in a broken back and neck. While using a wheelchair for mobility for at least three years, Captain Vehling worked to improve his paralysis (tetraplegia) and the associated physical impact with a combination of medical treatments and bio technology.

Today, he has some limb mobility and walks with help of a cane and bionic leg braces. He also drives a modified motorized vehicle using his hands. He remains motivated to continue building strength in his limbs and says “I want to be able to walk my daughters down the aisle.”

Derek says he would like to see Lillie’s three younger siblings use her idea in the future to continue creating products for good. Through her school project, Lillie and her team paired with a mentor who showed them the ropes of business and product development. She looks forward to sharing her retail experience with the entire student body of 800.

Lillie’s success is not limited to salesmanship; she also plays a multitude of sports: club soccer, water polo, volleyball, basketball, field hockey, golf, and maintains a 4.0 grade point average.

She certainly lives by her motto, “Don’t be afraid to get involved.” And, she hopes this latest venture will motivate others to stay connected and to help each other.

By Madeline Wright