BERNALILLO, N.M. (KRQE) – Kids with autism are getting a helping hand from a New Mexico fisherman. He’s using crafty lures to raise money for autism therapy services here in the state, which can cost parents tens of thousands of dollars.
“I wanted to make a Zia eye for our state and that’s where it all started,” said Matt Pelletier, owner of Dead Meat Customs. “Eventually, I had somebody ask me for some to use on baits and to sell for their customers. I did and it’s kind of snowballed since then.”
Pelletier is in the business of fish eyes. He’s not using real eyeballs; he’s in the art of making realistic resin eyes for fishing lures and flies.
“It’s an eyeball that we place onto a lure once it’s done being built,” said Pelletier. “Paint it and you add the eye to give a lifelike look to it. To some people, it does make a difference whether they’re going to catch fish or not. It gives them the confidence, is really what it does. The fish don’t mind. It really pertains to the angler, more than anything.”
The colorful ‘eyes’ take hours to make. Some are blue, some are red, some have an almost ‘cat-like’ appearance. However, Pelletier’s newest design is one of his most passionate projects to date.
“I wanted to create a contest, based around an eye, is where the idea started. I wanted to make an eye, send it to people and tell them, hey paint something around this,” said Pelletier. “I just saw something regarding autism and I said, that’s it. We make it a cause instead of just a contest.”
Filled with vibrant puzzle pieces of red, blue, yellow and green, Pelletier is sending the resin eyes to lure and fly builders for free. In return, he’s asking they design and paint them to the special eyes and possibly send the completed lures back to him.
“I’ve sent 114 builders eyes in South Africa, Australia, Sweden and all over the states,” said Pelletier. “Some of them have family members who are autistic or friends who are and they want to participate for their friend and give it to them. Others, they’re going to be donating it. It’s entirely up to them.”
He hopes to use the artistic lures and auction them off. This fundraiser will lure in some money for an important local cause.
“All the proceeds from the fundraising, the auctions, is going to go straight to our newest ABA therapy which is a specific therapy designed for children with autism,” said April Spaulding, Executive Director of Abrazos Family Support Services. “We will work with children as young as 12 months up into adulthood to ensure they’re receiving the therapy they need in their neighborhoods and their homes and sometimes here at the office, as well.”
Spaulding says the therapy is one-on-one and needed in the community. She says 1 in 59 people are diagnosed with the disorder in New Mexico, and only 12-percent of those in the state diagnosed with these developmental disabilities are getting the adequate and services they need.
“ABA is a very intensive therapy. It is a one-on-one therapy that a child works with a therapist to gain skills. These can be cognitive skills, behavioral skills, it’s very individualized for the child. Every child will have a different plan, different goals. They’ll have a therapist that works with them and then we’ll be able to track those goals and see how they’re doing and make adjustments to whatever therapy they need,” said Spaulding. “ABA is proven to be the number one therapy for children with autism to help them integrate into schools, into the community, eventually into a workforce.”
Abrazos, located in Bernalillo, says they will be the first non-profit in the state to offer this intensive therapy. Pelletier’s project is helping make it happen.
“Whoever would’ve thought fish eyes and Abrazos would be able to come together to both spread awareness and raise funds,” said Spaulding. “We’re going to raise autism awareness through those means so it just shows New Mexicans are so creative. We can find ways to raise awareness and find ways to support families and spread word beyond just our state.”
Pelletier’s just happy to take his love of fishing and the craft to make a difference in New Mexico.
“I tell everyone I’m a fish bum, I live for fishing, and I’m very lucky to be able to do this. I’m just a fish bum making these eyes. Tons of these people that are amazing artists making these around the world that are willing to help do this,” said Pelletier. “It just feels good to do good.”
Through the project, he’s inspiring others to keep an ‘eye’ out for what good they can do in their own communities.
There will also be a contest. Pelletier is asking people with a creative design for a lure to send in a photo to him. The photos will be judged online and the top three winning designs will receive prizes from fishing lure supply companies. The winners will be announced in April, which is Autism Awareness month.