HOOKED ON HONORING VETERANS: 8 year old Isabella boy shows his appreciation for veterans by handing out handmade fishing keychains
Editor’s note: To follow along with Skyler’s project, “like” his Facebook page, “Skylers Fishing Adventures.” Those wishing to contact Skyler can email his parents, Roger and Ashlee Clark, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eight-year-old Skyler Clark has developed two great passions over the course of his young life: fishing and honoring our country’s veterans.
Last November he found a way to combine those two passions in a project to show his appreciation to the men and women who have sacrificed and served in America’s armed forces. Skyler now makes and distributes keychains and necklaces to veterans featuring a fishing hook, a token of his heart, he says.
To date, he has given out more than 2,000 of his handmade mementos to area veterans.
An idea that came to him in the middle of the night
“He woke up in the middle of the night one night in November  and told us he wanted to do something for the veterans,” Skyler’s dad Roger told the Times. “That’s when the idea was born.”
The next day, Skyler worked with his dad and mom, Ashlee, to search online for ideas to honor U.S. veterans in some special way. After scrolling through dozens of different ideas, Skyler came across a fishing lure charm and told his parents right away that he wanted to use it.
Skyler says the fishing hook represents one of his favorite things to do, and by giving it to veterans, he’s letting them have a little piece of his heart, his parents say.
“Skyler won’t take any money either. He saved up every penny he had from the time he was little. When he came up with the project idea, he decided he wanted to use [his savings] to buy the supplies for the keychains and necklaces,” Roger said. “He doesn’t want anyone to help. He wants to earn the money, buy the charms and other supplies, make the necklaces. His heart is in it 100 percent.”
In his free time away from Lutie School, where he’ll be entering third grade next month, Skyler works diligently on making the keychains and necklaces and distributing them.
He keeps a book bag full of the keychains and necklaces with him so he won’t miss an opportunity to approach and thank a veteran, no matter where he is. He has approached veterans at gas stations, walking down sidewalks, in the grocery store and just about everywhere else.
“When we go to Walmart, you can’t put a time limit on it,” Roger said. “You can go in for milk, and we’ll end up being in there a couple of hours. But we promised him we’d never stop him from doing it.”
When asked how he identifies which people in stores are veterans, Skyler says it isn’t that hard.
“Sometimes they have a hat or shirt on, but a lot of times I just know,” Skyler said.
His parents said he has come to be able to read people by the way they stand, walk or how disciplined they appear.
“And somehow, he just knows,” Roger said. “Really, most of the time, he just knows by looking at them. He’ll tell us he thinks they’re a vet. Then he’ll go up and ask, ‘Are you a veteran?’ and they’ll nod yes.”
That icebreaker usually leads to a passionate and heartfelt discussion about Skyler’s appreciation for their service. Then he asks if they’d like to have a keychain or a necklace. He always ends the discussion by asking, ‘Do you like to go fishing?’ If they say yes, he asks if he can take them fishing.
‘It doesn’t get any better than that’
In addition to chance encounters during the family’s daily routine, Skyler also seeks out veterans at various local and regional events where he knows he’ll be able to approach large numbers of veterans.
Last month, when 12 members of the National Guard came to Lutie School to help distribute boxes of food and produce at a community giveaway, Skyler brought his book bag and presented each solider with a keychain.
“I admire and applaud his passion and love of our military and veterans,” Lutie superintendent Scot Young told the Times. “The sergeant told me they will carry Sky’s gift next to their heart when they are deployed next. Say what you want about today’s youth, but it doesn’t get any better than that.”
On July 4, Skyler and Clark family friend Arthur Fortin, who owns Isabella’s Wing & Fin Resort, visited the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall in Springfield. Fortin’s mom, Edith Greene, who’s also a veteran, accompanied the two.
Skyler was able to give 40 keychains and necklaces to veterans during the trip. He was impressed with the exhibit and showed his support with his own hard-earned chore money.
The exhibit included a Vietnam veterans museum. “It was a Vietnam-era tent with ammo cases and other things from the time period. When we were there, they had a big old water bottle sitting there with a sign on it and money in it. Skyler asked, ‘What’s that for?’” Arthur said. “I told him it was a donation jar so the wall and museum could continue to travel and be put on in different cities. He pulled out his wallet, took $5 out and dropped it in the jar.”
One more mission complete
Skyler and the Fortins also traveled to the Springfield Veterans Cemetery on Memorial Day this year, and Skyler walked around the cemetery, meeting veterans, thanking them for their service and giving them his gift. One man stood out to Skyler.
“He was a Vietnam veteran, and he was still carrying around the baggage of the way he was treated when he came home from war. You could see it in his actions,” Arthur said. “He spent a long time with Skyler, and you could tell it really meant a lot to him. It’s sad that all these years later that group of veterans still feel left out.”
After the two concluded their discussion and Skyler walked away to find his next recipient, the man’s lip turned up in a slight smile, and tears filled his eyes, Fortin said.
And that’s when Skyler knew he’d completed his goal – once again, making a veteran realize just how much their service means to us all.