By Kathy Overman ~
“Most of us think that going fishing is as easy as a walk down to the lake…for over 56 million Americans with disabilities, it’s just not that easy.” ~ FHNB ~
Many years ago when my daughters were young and we lived in the country 15 miles east of Hayward, WI, the girls went to a small rural school about ten miles from our home. Everyone in that area lived at a bit of a distance from each other and it was difficult to get together without planning.
I decided to become the Girl Scout leader to give the local girls a time every week to get together. Many of them were from resorts that their parents owned or other businesses connected to tourism, and the rest were just country kids.
In those days, we had fun by following trails that lead to places like a cabin or a fishing spot by the lake. That’s just what we did. Well, the girls and I had our perceptions changed one day when we added a young girl with a disability to our troop. In true kid fashion, it wasn’t a problem for them at all. Everyone accepted her and helped her in any way they could. She was a girl scout just like they were, and they wanted to include her in everything. My girls realized the need to give a helping hand sometimes to make sure this happened.
Today, most of the resorts and local businesses have made the transition to offering more access to their buildings and activities to become a welcoming place for all travelers to enjoy our community, but what about the outdoors?
As a leader of young people, sharing my experience with them was a job I did not take lightly. I wanted to give them the opportunity to view the world in different ways, get them thinking beyond themselves and our little community. One such opportunity came along in the form of an event called “Fishing Has No Boundaries.” This was a group of fishing guides and volunteers who held an event for people with disabilities. They wanted disabled fishermen and women to be able to experience the great outdoors and enjoy fishing on the lakes just like anyone else.
In our troop, all 24 girls volunteered as well as some of the parents who took turns helping as their resorts were up and running and both couldn’t get away at the same time. With 24 girls and 13 pup tents, it certainly was a new experience for me and also a great opportunity for my young scouts.
These girls carried tackle boxes, fishing rods, cooler bags and life jackets. They served food and cleaned up afterward. They we rewarded by meeting so many different kinds of people and getting to spend time with them. Some people couldn’t talk, some were missing limbs, some had birth defects and others were recovering from traumatic injuries. They got to meet Tony Dean, too, who was a true legend in the fishing industry, as well as some politicians in the local government and DNR officials. All of these people would be important figures in the girls’ futures.
As I look back now over the last 30 years, I know I’ve made a difference, hopefully for the good. Many of my girls are still active and involved in the community. As for my daughters, the FHNB is an annual event that they look forward to every year. They share their time with those who live with disabilities and help make a weekend memory that will last a lifetime. The event brings friends together and is something everyone, volunteers and participants alike, looks forward to.
Some of my Girl Scouts have taken over their family businesses and now understand how important it is to include everyone. The resorts are thriving and there are plenty of opportunities to demonstrate exactly that sentiment.
For some of the others, the medical field came calling and we have a doctor and a lab technician among our ranks. A few have become youth leaders who generously share their time between children and work.
For me, it has come full circle. As a parent and leader, I couldn’t be more proud of them all. And my love for FHNB has grown since five years ago when I was offered the opportunity to join their mission.
For 26 years, we have made FHNB friends and have helped people of all abilities and ages experience life in a better way. It’s more than just fishing for them. It’s about being independent and normal for a couple days. Side by side, we watch the ripples on the water, the bobbers floating away and a tug on the line. At that moment, there is no such thing as disability, only a fish, a line and a fisherman.
I now share my experience with those interested in opening the great outdoors to challenged anglers in their own communities. This is part of our goal.
FHNB aims to enrich the lives of people with disabilities, both present and future, by providing information and education about the recreational value of fishing. We promote the opportunities that make that possible and encourage everyone to participate in this leisure activity. The result is the development of accessible outdoor facilities, adaptive equipment, and volunteers who are passionate about sharing their knowledge and time towards a weekend of fishing.
Founded in 1986 by Bobby Cammack, a local fishing guide out of Hayward, WI, FHNB is a non-profit 501-(c)(3) volunteer organization. Since it’s beginning, FHNB has grown into a National Organization with 27 chapters established throughout 13 states. Every year, the chapter events serve over a thousand participants with disabilities with even more volunteers helping along the way.
“We believe through education, training, and the use of adaptive angling equipment, everyone is able to share in a dream come true.” ~ FHNB
To learn more about the Organization, Chapter locations and events, Sponsorship opportunities, and how to form a Chapter near you, contact the National Office in Hayward, WI, by phone 715-634-3185 or 800-243-3462, or visit their website at: http://fhnbinc.org.