TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – 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 Veterans Day.
Skip Smelko and his wife, Melode, own a graphic printing company in the the state capital. Three years ago, Smelko decided to use the company's resources to help out the annual Veterans Day Parade in Tallahassee.
But Smelko wants to do more than decorate a float.
"So, we decided to pick a veteran every year to honor," Smelko said.
Each year, their Hometown Hero veteran receives a care package catered to their needs.
"I had an idea to buy a veteran one of these track chairs. Like a bulldozer wheelchair, and we did that for our first veteran our first year," Smelko said.
This year, the parade's theme is veterans' families. The Smelkos chose Tina Reason to sponsor. She 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, and Sacred Soil for Veterans has stopped 11 suicides," Reason said.
While the folks at Altrua do their part to make the state capitol 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 company employee Rich Dye said veterans 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.
Reason 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 this earlier week.
Since getting involved with the parade, Altrua has donated around $50,000 to veterans.