JOPLIN, Mo.- Armed with fishing poles and motivated by compassion, NWTF volunteers and partners recently gathered at the Neosho Fish Hatchery to host a free fishing event for 200 Joplin, Mo., youth.
From the fortunate few who suffered minimal damage to their homes to the child from a single-parent home who lost his only parent and a sibling, each story is bound by a common thread: a massive tornado that ripped through their town and forever altered their lives.
KSNF-TV Anchorwoman Toni Vallier said, “My husband and son had a blast, but even more so our young friend Josiah had the best time ever. His mother told me he couldn’t stop talking about the whole day and told her every little detail. He doesn’t get to experience outdoor fun like that so he was more than thrilled. You have created memories of a lifetime for so many children.”
Seeing all the destruction on the evening news sparked an idea for Sugar Creek Gobbler NWTF Chapter President Dan Fuller. The idea soon morphed into a partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Neosho Fish Hatchery to give Joplin youth a momentary escape from the daily trauma they now face.
Fuller said, “The devastation an F-5 tornado causes to buildings is hard to comprehend unless you see it for yourself. It’s gone; stuff’s just gone. And what kept eating at me was the youth were just starting their summer vacations. So all of a sudden, that was stripped away along with their homes, their lives and their loved ones. We had to help.”
Studies confirm the benefits of giving youth chances to participate in recreational activities and helping them identify positive things when they are surrounded by the negative effects of a traumatic event, such as a natural disaster.
So in less than three weeks, Fuller and the Sugar Creek Gobblers NWTF Chapter volunteers set about making their vision — giving Joplin youth still struggling to rebuild their lives a carefree day of fun, free of charge — a reality.
From flashlights, sleeping bags and blankets to trophies, t-shirts, and all-you-can-eat ice cream, no participant or volunteer left empty-handed or empty-hearted.
“There were lots of smiles, lots of hugs and a few tears. It was a hugfest,” Fuller added.
It was the same compassion that inspired volunteers like Kim Murray to dedicate her time to making the daylong JAKES fishing event a success.
“It was touching to see how excited the youth were when they hooked their fish and so cute to see all of them in their green t-shirts surrounding the pond,” said Murray. “There were countless excited, leaping and smiling kids who wanted to show off their fish to anyone and everyone.”
Participants also enjoyed the NWTF’s new JAKES Take Aim shooting trailers, fully stocked by Daisy Outdoor Products with airguns, pellets, targets and other equipment to let youth try target and sporting clay shooting in a safe, fun environment.
The NWTF’s JAKES (Juniors Acquiring Knowledge, Ethics and Sportsmanship) program was developed in 1981, and is dedicated to teaching the principles of wildlife management and safe, ethical and responsible hunting. The program is designed for youth up to age 12.
The NWTF would like to thank all partners who made the Joplin JAKES event possible, including Conservation Federation of Missouri, Friends of the Neosho Fish Hatchery, Missouri Department of Conservation, Missouri National Guard, Missouri State George C. Clark Chapter and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
For more information about the NWTF JAKES outreach program, call (800) THE-NWTF or visit http://www.nwtf.org/jakes/.
Melanie Swearingen (803) 637-7634.