High School Senior Rolls Out T-Shirt Company To Back Special Needs Programs

By Erica Breunlin
The News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Fla.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) All profits from Vail Linn’s T-shirt company, named “Happy Go Lucky”, are given to Seabreeze High students with special needs. The high school senior divvies up the funds between the school’s Exceptional Student Education Department and its Best Buddies Club.

The News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Fla.

The end of the school day for Seabreeze High School senior Vail Linn is just about her only moment to exhale every 24 hours.

In that 50-minute window, Linn, 18, doesn’t have to cram for one of her six AP classes or pound the gavel at the student government meetings she leads or pour over college applications.

The pressure isn’t entirely off the higher schooler in those minutes as she pivots from student to student aide in a class for kids with special needs, but as she throws balls back and forth with students, dances beside them or plays video games against them that pressure gives way to fun.

“It’s a feeling you can’t explain until you’ve worked with these kids yourselves,” the Ormond-by-the-Sea native said. “They’re just amazing. There’s just something about how pure and genuine they are. It’s just like nothing else.”

With a drive to give more than her time to Seabreeze students with disabilities, Linn in September launched a business that sells brightly colored T-shirts splashed with brightly themed catchphrases, such as “You are my sunshine” and “We ‘mermaid’ to make a difference.”

More than $3,300 later, the entrepreneur is preparing to pad her company with additional apparel, including hoodie sweatshirts and quarter-sleeved zip shirts, and will potentially debut some of her self-designed clothing in local stores.

All profits from her line, named Happy Go Lucky, will be routed to Seabreeze High students with special needs as she divvies up funds between the school’s Exceptional Student Education Department and its Best Buddies Club.

Besides generating funds for her peers, Linn aims to use her startup to pursue her passion as an example to others and to spread awareness of working with students with disabilities.

“This is definitely the thing I will take with me from high school,” she said.

Linn began assisting students with special needs at the outset of her junior year and before long was competing with her classmates in Special Olympics matches in basketball, flag football and track — even becoming a state track champion with her unified team last spring.

Now she’s good friends with several students with disabilities including 18-year-old Jasmine Taylor, who says Linn is as pretty as she is nice.

After a year of school periods with those friends, the senior — who has ambitions to become a third-generation student at Princeton University next fall — started sowing the seeds of her business model over the summer.

At first she imagined contributing funds toward a cause that had deeper roots in her life like animals in need — her mother runs an animal shelter — but after more thought she decided she wanted to invest in something that she believed lacked public visibility.

“I want to do something different,” Linn said. “I want to actually make an impact in an area that’s kind of untapped.”
Her classmates became her cause as she drew inspiration for her clothing from the nonprofit Ivory Ella, which sells elephant-emblazoned shirt, pants and caps partially to raise funds for elephant populations in decline.

She also found inspiration directly from her peers in her designs, seeking to dress each shirt up with imaging and lettering that “encompasses their personalities.”

The whole goal is “to make you smile like how these kids make me smile,” Linn said.

Partnering with her mother/best friend, Nikki, Linn found a wholesaler, local printer and web designer to help with the nuts and bolts of her fledgling business.

Happy Go Lucky took flight with 400 shirts — 80 of five different designs in four sizes — and within two weeks was selling out of mediums of two of its shirts, primarily through old-fashioned word of mouth coupled with social media.

For now, Linn mostly sells them directly out of her home, having converted her family’s guest room into a makeshift shop lined with rows of blue, pink, purple, white and green tees and stocked with gift bags and company stickers.

When she spots one of the colors on a Seabreeze High classmate during a dress down day — when the school relaxes its uniform policy — or comes across one in a social media post, she feels particularly validated by her entrepreneurial efforts.

In a similar way, she feels encouraged by the progress she’s seen with “how we treat people with special needs and with how we view them in society.”

As the young special needs advocate continues to iron out her startup, she doesn’t have a specific profit figure in mind but is simply chasing as many dollars for her cause as possible.

What funds she donates to the school could help the school buy iPads and other technological tools for its students with disabilities and possibly a tandem bike for the school as it ponders introducing Special Olympics unified cycling, said Vanessa Emerson, an exceptional student education teacher at Seabreeze.

But Linn’s companionship to students is as prized as the money she’s pulling in, Emerson said.

“I think they just like having a friend,” she said. “I think that’s rare for a lot of our students to have somebody who genuinely cares about them outside of family, somebody in a high school setting.”

Linn, wavering between careers in psychology, business and law, likely won’t slow down to catch her breath as she graduates from Seabreeze High in the spring and considers continuing her startup from whatever school she lands at in the fall.

She knows she puts her own hectic schedule on herself, explaining with her happy-go-lucky outlook, “I’ve pushed it to the limit.”

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