America Supports You: Fourth Grader Organizes Freedom Walk
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
SEBRING, Ohio, Aug. 3, 2006 If Colton Lockner’s summer project is any indication of his future success, his name is one everyone should remember.
Colton Lockner talks with his uncle, Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Brian Joseph. Joseph and a Weekly Reader newspaper story inspired the 9-year-old’s decision to organize an America Supports You Freedom Walk on Sept. 11 in his hometown of Sebring, Ohio. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Colton, 9, has taken it upon himself to organize this small village’s first America Supports You Freedom Walk, a move that surprised no one who knows the slight boy.
“You don’t expect this from a 9-year-old kid,” former local elementary school principal Vito Weeda said. “We look for great things for Colton because of the type of person he is.”
Colton’s mother agrees that her son, who has no problem talking business with adults only to turn around and jump into the pool or play soccer with his brothers, is unique.
“That’s just Colton,” Robyn Lockner, his mother, said.
“Colton’s always wanting to organize something.”
America Supports You is a nationwide Defense Department program that highlights grassroots and corporate support of the nation’s servicemembers. ASY Freedom Walks are intended to commemorate the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and honor U.S. troops.
Some may find it hard to believe that, at such a young age, Colton has organized Sebring’s Freedom Walk and encouraged about 1,000 people to participate. And he’s done nearly everything -- from getting the word out to finding sponsors and registering walkers on the Fourth of July - on his own. In fact, his mother plays only a supporting role in her son’s endeavor.
“I had a little help by my mom, but the rest of the stuff, I mostly did that myself,” Colton said. “(My mom is) actually my secretary.”
He learned of the Freedom Walk while reading a Weekly Reader newspaper about a month before school let out for the summer. He said it was the safety of his uncle, Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Brian Joseph, that first came to mind.
“(The walk) is to honor (servicemembers) and thank them for what they’re doing for our country and to remember the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11,” Colton said. “We’re trying to get it to be an every-year thing, like a permanent holiday.”
Sebring Mayor John Smith said Colton has his backing on that idea.
Colton has gotten backing for his walk from throughout the town. About 12 local business owners in the village of about 5,000 agreed to let Colton place a donation can in their stores. They also let him post flyers for the event.
John Pappas, owner of the local Pizza Pan restaurant, said he was so impressed with the way Colton conducted himself that he agreed to help him make the walk happen.
“He was a little man walking in,” Pappas said. Though he’d not met Colton before, he listened to his pitch to put a donation can in the eatery. Not only did Pappas agree to the can, but he talked with Colton and his mom about sponsoring the food, banners and t-shirts for the event, as well.
“We didn’t think it was going to be such a big deal,” Pappas said. “We thought there were going to be 50, 75 people (participating in the walk).”
His commitment hasn’t wavered as the numbers have climbed, though. In fact, he’s upped the ante by offering all walkers who pre-register a certificate for a free large pizza.
“This is small-town America and this little man … is what it’s all about,” Pappas said. “My hat’s off to little Colton. He really got a lot of people together.”
Terrance Price, owner of Trojan Horse Food and Spirits, is also sponsoring Colton’s Freedom Walk. Proceeds from an Aug. 6 breakfast and bike run and raffles that day will go to support the Freedom Walk, he said.
Local civic organizations also are lending their support. On Aug. 1, Ed Heavener, commander of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post, presented Colton with a $200 check. “I know he’s getting a lot of support from everybody else, but that’s what makes the world go around, everybody jumping in and helping out,” Heavener said.
Colton has distinct plans for the funds he’s receiving. “I’m going to use it to buy the shirts,” he said. “The money that’s left I’m going to use to buy care packages to send overseas to the military men and women.”
With such drive and patriotic intent, it seems no wonder Colton has easily surpassed his goal of signing up 500 people for his America Supports You Freedom Walk. Those who know Colton don’t doubt he’ll meet his next goal of making the Freedom Walk an annual event either. And, his family and friends say, he’ll do it in his usual fashion -- as a well-spoken, grounded, soon-to-be-fourth grader who can hold his own with any adult in the village.