My Son, the Sock Guy for the Sockeye

Being a young conservationist's mom

It’s our default setting. We tend to look to adults to effect the change we see needed in the world. What if we were to look to kids instead? Kids have interesting insights, they often don’t see things as we adults do, and they tend to be more honest with what they see. We know they want to have a positive impact, to effect change for good. What might happen if we supported them in taking a bigger role?

Letting Kids Lead

My 12-year-old son Topher opened my eyes. Like all of our kids, Topher is happiest when he is outside. By nature, he is a boy who loves and is connected to nature. It’s his path toward joy. I remember his early outdoor experiences: in the woods, by the river and mountain lakes and catching his first fish. He developed a fascination with fish early on, which grew through a school curriculum program in 5th grade. In class and in the field, he was fully introduced to hatcheries, river health trout and Idaho’s endangered salmon.

Topher is a conscientious kid and he was struck by the gravity of the problem. “If we don’t do something, there won’t be any fish in the streams,” he said.

Meeting Lonesome Larry

That’s when Topher started to connect the dots. He locked onto the cautionary tale of Lonesome Larry, the sockeye salmon that swam 900 miles upstream back to Redfish Lake. That year, he was the only sockeye to return to spawn. It was 1992 and Larry’s lonesome journey was testament that Snake River salmon were in serious trouble. Lonesome Larry became a legend Topher saw an opportunity to build on the fate of this iconic fish. “I’m going to sell socks to save salmon,” he announced, and with that, the Lonesome Larry Project was born.

Diving into Conservation

Topher dove into building a website, ordering socks—in two different color options—and selling them online. He was soon billing himself as the “Sock Guy for the Sockeye.” I was very proud of his tenacity, to take his original idea and make it a reality.

Solutions for this complex problem remain elusive, and Topher realized he didn’t have all the answers. So he focused on a reachable goal of building awareness of the issue instead. As you might expect, there were bumps along the way. As an 11-year-old setting up his first business, he had a lot to learn, including how to ask for help.

The Jones Family.

Can selling socks really save salmon? It’s a fair question. We discovered that at the very least, it can help. Topher’s project has donated over $8,000 to the Idaho Fish and Wildlife Foundation. This was enough to fund the Lonesome Larry Grant, for research and conservation related to endangered fish species in the Northwest.

Above and beyond the donations to support salmon and awareness building, I believe there is a valuable lesson for us all. Kids are an important part of the process of making the world a better place. All we need to do is lean into their ideas, give them support and encourage them to give it a try.

For more stories from the Northwest on how we can restore abundant salmon runs, please check out Our Northwest Opportunity.

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