Live Oak —
When Suwannee Middle School student Christen Wooley was given a science project to do in 1999, she decided to make the most of it.
Christen decided to take a practical approach and invent something that would be useful. Her invention was a vest. However, it was also a backpack. Thus, she named her creation Vestpakz. Vestpakz are simply stylish vests that serve as backpacks.
The 11-year-old sixth grader had no idea just how successful that project might become. Although her life today is much different than it was in 1999, the successful inventor maintains the passion for taking her crafty invention to the next level. Today, Christen hopes to see Vestpakz being sold through a national retail giant - Walmart.
“It is difficult when you have a product to have it manufactured at a competitive price and then get it into the retail stores,” Christen’s mother, Cheryl Wooley stated in an interview.
One way of accomplishing Christen’s goal is through a contest presented by Walmart. The contest is called “get on the shelf.” Anyone can help Christen by voting for her invention to be placed on the retailer’s shelves. Simply log on to www.getontheshelf.com/product/1740/Vestpakz and vote through Facebook or by text. According to Christen’s father, Mike, one vote per day is allowed through each.
There are two rounds of voting. The first round began March 7 and ends April 3. The 10 entries, of the thousands entered, with the highest number of votes will be selected to compete in round two. Voters can then select their favorite from the top 10 from April 11 through April 24.
“Our ultimate goal is to get Vestpakz in the top 10 and we will go from there,” Christen said.
Christen has garnered much notoriety over the past 13 years for her invention. Her first reward was earning a good grade and the overwhelming approval of her teacher, Melissa Brinson.
“She’s a great teacher,” Christen warmly commented about Brinson.
Former Superintendent of Suwannee County Schools Wyman Harvard encouraged Christen to enter her Vestpakz in the Dreamers and Doers competition in Orlando, which recognizes student innovation. As a result, Christen enjoyed achieving top honors from the event, which was sponsored by Disney.
Following that, Christen enjoyed recognition through the Houghton Mifflin Science Convention and United Inventors Association Inventor’s Digest. In July of 2002, the young inventor was pleased to learn the invention had been awarded a U.S. patent. Once patented, Vestpakz Inc. was established and Christen, along with her family, focused on the development, production and marketing of her crafty invention.
Perhaps Christen’s most memorable moment to date is an appearance on the Oprah show in 2005, where she told America about Vestpakz. An excerpt from that show can be seen on www.suwanneedemocrat.com.
According to Christen, Vestpakz can be used by children, who are often overloaded with textbooks, vacationers, hikers and just ordinary, everyday people. For the fashion conscious, Vestpakz are available in 14 colors.
It all began as a humble science project, with help and support of a child’s parents, along with a few scrap pieces of material. From there, a young lady from Suwannee County has seen the process of her invention evolving into a marketable product.
“We are very proud of Christen,” Cheryl Wooley affectionately said. “Our family is passionate about the project because our daughter created it.
Today, Christen has taken on a new name. She is now known as Christen Wooley Bell. She has completed college and is a pre-k teacher in Panama City. Christen and her husband, Daniel Bell, who serves as a minister of music in Panama City, will celebrate their first wedding anniversary on March 26.
Christen and Daniel love living and working in Panama City.
“What’s not to love?” Christen asked. “I’m on the beach.”
Still, the Live Oak native maintains strong ties to the place she calls home, the supportive family she loves and the place that Vestpakz was born.
To order a Vestpakz or to learn more, visit www.vestpakz.com.