By: Jake Stofan | Capitol News Service
November 10, 2017
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) -- Florida bills itself as the most veteran-friendly state in the nation.
For the last 94 years in the state capital, a parade is held for Veteran's Day. But one parade float in particular is designed to give back.
Skip Smelko and his wife, Melode, own a graphic printing company in Tallahassee.
Three years ago, Skip decided to use the company's resources to help out the annual Veteran's Day Parade, but he wanted to do more than just decorate a float.
"So, we decided to pick a veteran every year to honor," he explained.
Each year, their "Hometown Hero" veteran receives a care package catered to their needs.
"I had an idea to buy a veteran a track chair, like a bulldozer wheel chair, and we did that for our first veteran our first year," he recalled.
This year, the parade's theme is veterans' families. The Smelkos chose Tina Reason to sponsor.
Tina comes from a military family and used her 25-year background in social services to create an organization dedicated to helping veterans.
"If we can save one life, then we've done our job," Tina said. "Sacred Soil for Veterans has stopped 11 suicides."
While the folks at Altrua do their part to make the capital a great place for veterans, lawmakers over the years have implemented numerous policies to make the state one of the most welcoming to service men and women.
Navy veteran and Altrua employee, Rich Dye, says veteran's tax exemptions, discounts on services and aid for disabled veterans reflect the state's dedication to its vets.
"I think Florida has a little more focus on veterans than other states I've lived in," Dye said.
Tina will ride on the Hometown Heroes float with her son, who is an active duty member in the Marine Corps. He just returned to his hometown from deployment earlier this week.
Since getting involved with the parade, Altrua has donated around $50,000 to veterans.