KEEPING IT REAL: Will’s Story

KEEPING IT REAL: Will's Story
Posted on Thu 17 Dec 2020

KEEPING IT REAL: Will's Story

An interview With Will Howell*

There are 18 million people with cerebral palsy and Will Howell is one. He was diagnosed with CP at two years old and he’s a proud entrepreneur and the founder of WillPower Ties. We asked Will some questions and these are his answers, along with additional information from his mom, Melanie.

What was your childhood like as far as CP goes? Did you have physical, speech, and/or occupational therapy? If so, how did those therapies make you feel?
Will’s initial reaction to this question was, “PT is the best!” He started therapy through a program called Babies Can't Wait when he was only a few months old. From there, he had multiple PT, OT, and speech appointments at Backus Children's Hospital in Savannah, Georgia, each week until he was four years old. Once Will started school, all therapy occurred during the school day. High School PT was his favorite because we took his AMTYKE to school. Part of his treatment was riding his bike outside on the track. "The kids liked my bike," Will said.

Did you have any surgeries? If so, tell us a bit about that experience.
Will had three surgeries directly related to CP, and he’s had ten surgeries in all. When asked what he remembers about his hospital stays, he said, "feeling bad, IV and shakes." (“Shakes” is what Will calls seizures.) While he had several surgeries on his muscles, his response to questions about hospital stays usually relate to epilepsy.

What were your hobbies as a kid, and do you still hold some of the same interests?
Will got his first video gaming system when he was seven years old, and he only likes sports games. He says, “I love my game. I am good at it.”

Will has learned so much language from these games. He memorizes how to navigate the games and everything about the teams.  Also, learning a lot about different sports gives him a common topic to discuss with the people he meets.

How did you first think of WillPower Ties?
Will says that John and Dr. Ben helped him first think of it. Our family discovered John, from John's Crazy Socks, when Will was still in high school. Will's dad was the first to suggest that working together would be a great idea. For two years, the family kicked around several ideas and studied what John and his dad Mark were doing to make the sock company work. 

Dr. Ben Spitalnick, Will's pediatrician, gave us the push we needed when he reminded us that Will "needed more than a job; he needed a purpose." That was the day we all decided on ties. Will has always loved special occasions that require him to get dressed up. Ties seemed like a good fit.

What did it take to get WillPower ties off the ground? What was the process like, including the biggest challenges, successes, and surprises?
When asked what the hardest part about selling ties is, Will's response was simple, "shipping." And he’s right. There’s been a lot of trial and error when it comes to packaging and shipping. When asked what the best part is, he replied, "Working with mom and dad." Although a sweet answer, Will beams when riding his bike from our house to the post office to mail the orders. He likes to put the orders in the basket on the back of his bike.

Our first step in the process was to take Will to AmericasMart in Atlanta to look for tie suppliers. From there, we traveled to North Carolina to tour a tie manufacturing facility and meet with the CFO. Will loved meeting some of the people who make the ties. Will helped as we combed the internet, choosing tie designs we wanted to sell. We set up shelving in Will's bedroom as the ties started arriving. Will's bedroom became our headquarters.

Next, the family met with a  local media company (owned by Melanie's former sixth-grade science student) who designed a logo and set up the website through Shopify. 

The family met Jen and asked her to guide us through the world of social media marketing. Will is at the center of all of these meetings. It is his personality and love of life we want to communicate with the world.

The biggest surprise? Finding two companies to work with outside of men's neckwear. WillPower Ties also sells handmade collars and ties for dogs, and we sell the world's first wearable baby teething tie. Once people meet Will they want to work with him. He is so positive and enthusiastic about everything and everybody. 

Please add anything else that you'd like others to know about you.
Will has always thrived on social interaction. As parents, we knew his life after high school needed to be something that could keep him connected with people, but would also allow flexibility for the days when he is too sick to work. Starting a business centered around his strengths has been a blessing.

*Will's story is part of KEEPING IT REAL — a series of personal stories that will take you deeper into the lives of people with CP. Each person makes different choices based on what works for them, and we’ll showcase that — highlighting what life is like for them on a daily basis, what they care about, and the ways CP impacts them. 

The KEEPING IT REAL blog is intended solely to raise awareness about the varied human experience with cerebral palsy and shouldn't be read or construed to contain any medical advice, medical endorsement, or other endorsement by Cerebral Palsy Alliance Research Foundation. Only you and your doctor know what's best for you. Please consult your doctor for medical advice.

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