Is Skye the limit for sheriffs’ fan? Not likely

A West Chester mother often likened her fortunes to the lyrics from a blues song: “If it wasn’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.”

But that was before a geography mistake catapulted her 9-year-old son Alex into the limelight, where he has endeared himself to many and experienced dizzying excitement that shows no sign of abating. And Leslie Collins couldn’t be more grateful.

“Never in a billion, trillion years could I have imagined that things would turn out like this,” she said. “It’s just been amazing, and I’m so happy for Alex.”

Alex poses with two of his favorite Chester County Sheriffs: Carolyn "Bunny" Welsh and Alex Underwood.

Alex poses with two of his favorite Chester County Sheriffs: Carolyn "Bunny" Welsh and Alex "Big A" Underwood.

The fourth-grader from Fern Hill Elementary made national headlines in December after his mother helped him enter an online contest with a prize that seemed ideal for the son of a single mother with a heart condition: a day hunting and fishing with the Chester County Sheriff.

When Alex delivered his entry to the Sheriff’s Office in West Chester, he was crestfallen to learn that the prize involved the Chester County Sheriff in South Carolina. His obvious disappointment struck a chord with Chester County Sheriff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh and her staff, who set out to reverse his dejection.

Welsh happened to know South Carolina Sheriff Alex Underwood well from mentoring him at the National Sheriffs’ Institute in Colorado in September. After a phone call, both agreed that Alex Collins should get his wish, a dream that was funded by personal donations. What neither of them knew at the time was that indelible bonds would form.

The boy's trip to South Carolina in late December came with lots of fanfare: police escorts, TV cameras, and gifts galore. During three adventure-packed days with Underwood, “Little A” – Alex Collins’ moniker to avoid confusion with the sheriff known as “Big A” – solidified his stature as a treasured guest.

By the time he left South Carolina, Alex Collins knew that he would return; he just didn’t know when – and he also didn’t know that others were already working to make it happen.

On Jan. 14, he and his mother and Welsh were picked up in West Chester and whisked off to New York for an appearance on the Meredith Vieira Show, which had secretly flown in Underwood for a surprise reunion. One of the perks of that appearance was a voucher for Little A’s airfare back to South Carolina.

Exhausted from following Alex Collins around, Skye catches a snooze at Marshall Square Park in West Chester.

Exhausted from following Alex Collins around, Skye catches a snooze at Marshall Square Park in West Chester.

Last week, Alex spent part of his Easter vacation with Underwood in South Carolina, where he went hunting and fishing and made more lasting memories. He said the highlights of the trip were “getting to see Big A again” – and a very special gift.

Leslie Collins said Underwood had spoken to her in advance about the possibility of giving Alex a puppy and she recognized how important it would be for her son. She said financial and health woes have repeatedly prevented her from giving her son the resources she would have liked. “He’s been such a good kid,” she said. “He really deserves this.”

So Leslie Collins and her daughter and her daughter’s fiancé accompanied Alex on a 600-mile road trip to Chester, S.C., so that they could bring the 8-week-old Australian-German shepherd mix back to West Chester, where Skye and Alex have been inseparable. The dog's name comes from the heroine of Nickelodeon’s “Paw Patrol.”

“His life is forever changed,” said Welsh. “And so are the lives of many others.”

Alex Collins shows off another friend that a geography mistake enabled him to make.

Alex Collins shows off another friend that a geography mistake enabled him to make.

Welsh said numerous people have stepped up to provide opportunities for Alex, both in her office and Underwood’s. She said Alex has attended Flyers’ and 76ers’ games with Chester County Deputy Sheriff Harry McKinney, and Alex and his mother were invited guests to Welsh’s annual Wild Game Dinner, a fundraiser for her office’s K-9 unit.

Alex, sporting a cowboy hat, even had a place of honor recently at the Chester County GOP nominating convention as a member of Welsh’s campaign committee.

Like Leslie Collins, Welsh said she never envisioned what Alex’s mother termed “the best mistake of my life” would generate so many positive repercussions. Many of them stem from Alex’s personality, Welsh said. “It’s hard not to be enchanted by his smile,” she explained.

Welsh said she credits Leslie Collins for raising a sweet, humble, and appreciative boy. She said that while some children might bask in the kind of national publicity Alex received from his unconventional contest win, his focus has been on the friendships, not the outward fuss.

“He’s formed some solid relationships with a lot of good people,” Welsh said. “And they’re not going to go away.”

In the meantime, Leslie Collins has adopted a new mantra. “Good things happen to those who wait,” she said.

For his part, Alex is enjoying weekly, if not daily, communication with Underwood, Welsh, and McKinney, and he’s looking forward to his next trip south, whenever it might be.

Underwood said he enjoys being kept up-to-date on how Alex is doing at home and in school. “Alex is like a part of the family now; I look forward to his visits,” Underwood said. “He’s even got his own bedroom.”

An outdoors enthusiast, Underwood said he encouraged Alex to do the same thing for a young person when he becomes an adult. He also made one request of Alex: “When I get old, I hope you’ll take me hunting and fishing once in a while.”

Alex, when asked what he’s learned from his whirlwind escapades, paused a few seconds. Then he said: “There are a lot of good people in this world.”

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