9-year-old girl makes bracelets to raise money for the South Walton Turtle Watch
FREEPORT — Like many other girls her age, Lilly Wiseman loves stringing beads together to make bracelets.
“They’re fun, and sometimes when I don’t have something to do I’ll make bracelets,” Lilly said.
Lindsey Wiseman never imagined her 9-year-old daughter’s jewelry making would turn from a hobby to philanthropy. But that's what happened with a silver turtle bead, inspired Lilly’s fundraiser for the South Walton Turtle Watch.
Lilly and her twin brother, Davis, often ask about charities, Lindsey said.
“We try to talk to them about giving back when you can, even if it’s a small thing helping other people,” Lindsey said. “We love going to the beach. They’ve grown up going to the beach. They dig big holes and we always tell them, ‘You gotta fill in the holes. Pick up your trash.’ I think it’s good awareness for them.”
With some help from her mother, Lilly made 49 bracelets and raised $793 for South Walton Turtle Watch.
“She came to us one day and was like, ‘I want to make bracelets to sell them,’ ” Wiseman said. “I was like, ‘OK, what do you want to do with it?’ ”
Wiseman suggested she donate the money. They researched different organizations and zeroed in on their favorite vacation spot: the Florida Panhandle.
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The family lives in Cornelius, North Carolina, and vacations in Northwest Florida at least once a year. Lindsey and her husband, Jeff, were married in Santa Rosa Beach and Lilly and Davis were baptized there.
Many of the bracelets Lilly made featured a silver turtle bead she stumbled upon when the family visited Charleston, South Carolina, a year ago. The bead is how they chose the South Walton Turtle Watch for the proceeds.
"They’re beach animals and I think the baby turtles are cute," Lilly said.
Wiseman posted a few bracelets on Facebook for sale for $15 each.
“I thought, ‘Well a few people will buy them, our family and friends,’ and then it just kept going and going,” Wiseman said. “People I haven’t seen since I was 2 years old even contacted me and bought them. People all over the country have bought them.”
Lindsey had to help to meet the demand. They also had to buy more turtle beads.
Making the bracelets is tedious, Lindsey said. It can take 30 minutes, but Lilly takes play breaks in between.
“It was funny because she sort of bosses me around,” Lindsey said. “She’s very particular about the style that she makes. I had to create a spreadsheet to keep track of who ordered and what they ordered, where we were sending it, who paid, how they paid, where to mail them. We can still make them, but she’s 9. I don’t want it to become a job, but she loves making them.”
The experience taught Lilly not only about giving back, but also how to run a business. Customers come first.
“I was like, ‘I know you want to make it this way, but someone asked for the silver turtles and all pink, not rainbow,’” Wiseman said. “Selling things, we have to make sure it’s for them.”
Barb Van Stavern, a coordinator for South Walton Turtle Watch, expressed much gratitude for the fundraiser.
“We were absolutely thrilled and very humbled and appreciative to know that somebody of that age is already involved in conservation and in an environment they don’t live in,” Van Stavern said.
South Walton Turtle Watch is a nonprofit that runs on donations, Van Stavern said. Most of the money received goes directly to supplies, she said.
“When we find a nest, we have survey flags for our volunteers to take with them on their walks,” Van Stavern said. “Once we get down there to the nest, we’ll determine if she laid eggs. If she did, we have stakes and flag tape. We have to stake it to protect it from traffic.”
Other supplies are sea turtle stretchers, medical gloves and masks. The money also is used for the organization’s education initiatives.
Sea turtles are a keystone species; they are important to the ecology of not only the ocean but the beach, she said.
"A lot of times the health of those turtles will give us a clue about the health of our ocean. It’s a very important species to keep around.”
All species of sea turtles are either threatened or endangered. Most of their challenges are human-made, such as loss of habitat or exposure to artificial lighting, she said.
Van Stavern said the nonprofit appreciates all donations, big or small.
“That was pretty exciting to us that this girl took it upon herself to make these bracelets and sell them and decided she wanted to give all her proceeds to us,” she said. “We were just incredibly impressed by that young lady and certainly hope she is a future conservationist.”