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9-year-old finds unique way to honor first responders

Easy may not be in the job description of a first responder. But their selfless duties don't go unnoticed by one 9-year-old in Marion County.

Aubryn Barnes said they work hard all day, every day to save us, which is why they deserve to feel appreciated day in and day out.

Christmas Eve five years ago was the start of it all. Aubryn and her family decided to open their home to first responders, passing out hot chocolate, coffee and treats — their special way to say thank you.

The best part is "seeing the smiles on their faces and knowing that they're happy and knowing that they know they are appreciated,” Aubryn said. Her big heart earned her an even bigger honor — a challenge coin from Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods.

Challenge coins are prestigious collectible items among all first responders and the military. Aubryn has created her very own coin to help add to these people's collections.

Having someone so young in the community who is taking their time and money to honor first responders this way is very heart warming, Jesse Blaire, the fire captain in Ocala, said.

"We like brownies and that kind of stuff and cards and stuff and that's nice,” Blaire said. “But challenge coins — challenge coins are something that every guy here really, really enjoys and likes, and usually they collect them."

Blaire has 50 coins and counting. The one he keeps in his pocket every day is one he and his family specially made. Every detail on the coin has a deeper meaning.

The coins are one-of-a-kind items that allow Aubryn to celebrate first responders in a one-of-a-kind way.

Elena is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing
Ashley is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing