“A dream deferred… dries up like a raisin in the sun.”

— American poet Langston Hughes

Nearly ten years ago, when my 9-year-old son Ben brought down his very first dove on our inaugural father-son hunting trip in northern Mexico, I felt confident that it would be just the first in a long, rewarding succession of outdoor adventures he and I would experience together on his promising road to adulthood. My confidence was grounded in a conviction that most parents – including myself – have long taken for granted: the blessing of their children’s good health.

It was there, in a burnt orange sorghum field just south of Abasolo, watching Ben face off against wave after wave of of fast-flying whitewings, that I suddenly realized just how lucky I really am… how lucky so many of us hunting and fishing parents really are. Here was a kid with nary a worry in the world, discovering, first-hand, the thrill and challenge of the hunt, something he’d dreamed of since he was six years old – still far too small to shoulder the Browning 16 gauge his grandpa had handed down to him (even with it’s sawed off stump of a stock). And here I was, fortunate enough to be making the kid’s dream come true…

It just doesn’t get any better than this, I thought to myself.

Tragically, there are thousands of families, just like mine – and perhaps yours – who share a passion for hunting and fishing, but who can’t share the assumption of robust health. They’re families with children suffering from a critical illness, devastating disease or crippling disability – in many cases threatening to rob them of their lives before they reach their next birthday. Like Ben, these kids (and their parents) dream of their own outdoor adventures, but – unlike Ben – their dreams may never be realized…

Until now.

Bringing kids’ dreams to life with free hunting and fishing trips is the exclusive mission of the United Special Sportsmen Alliance (USSA), a grassroots, all-volunteer charity organization founded by serious illness survivor Brigid O’Donoghue in 2001, in the wake of the nation’s leading “wish-granting” charity buckling to animal rights groups and banning hunting & fishing trips for disabled and terminally ill kids.

“Our goal is to give these kids and their families something to really look forward to during a very difficult chapter in their lives,” says O’Donoghue, “…not only to help sustain and recharge them during a critical time of need, but also giving them a peaceful, welcoming place to focus on the quality of life, family ties, and the wonders of our natural world. And if we can add some thrills and excitement into the mix, that’s just a bonus. Our job is to create memories for these families that last forever.”

To date, Brigid and her all-volunteer team across the country have sent more than 7,000 deserving youngsters on hunting and fishing dream trips, with the ultimate goal of making wishes come true for 1,000 or more kids each and every year. Of course, USSA couldn’t even exist, much less set such lofty goals for itself, if not for the support of hunters, anglers and those in the outdoor business community, who so selflessly contribute their time and resources to bring these children “Inner Peace Through The Great Outdoors” (the charity’s slogan).

Unfortunately, with the recent economic downturn comes a critical shortfall of trip sponsorships, contributions and critically needed gear, forcing USSA’s volunteers to work all the longer and harder to meet the needs of an ever-growing “wish list” across the country. Disturbingly, USSA now faces a challenge the likes of which Brigid and her volunteers have never encountered during the group’s 10 years in existence: Not only surviving the recessionary climate, but actually growing stronger in spite of it.

That’s where you – my fellow hunters & anglers, manufacturers, retailers, taxidermists, guides, outfitters, lodge and preserve owners – can step in and play a crucial – indeed, heroic – role in these youngsters’ lives, in any of several ways:

  • If you know of a critically ill or disabled child who dreams of taking the hunting or fishing trip of a lifetime, please contact us at (847) 676-8424, or ussa-kids@comcast.net, and we’ll have USSA volunteer contact you as soon as possible.
  • If you own or manage a lodge, ranch, preserve or other property, and would like to host one or more of USSA’s kids for a day or two of hunting or fishing, please contact me with available dates, game species and travel/gear requirements. From there, USSA will match appropriate children to your locations based on their desires and physical abilities, as well as ensuring that all medical clearances, liability waivers and parent/guardian arrangements are taken care of in advance.
  • If you’re an outdoor sports broadcaster, publisher, editor or writer, or if you host a hunting/fishing television or radio show, please contact me to arrange an interview with a USSA Board member, obtain scripts and pre-recorded PSAs, or request USSA fact sheets, photos and event footage.
  • If you’re a manufacturer or retailer of outdoor sporting gear – tackle, clothing, camping equipment, accessories, etc. – or if you’re a hunter or angler with (gently-used) gear collecting dust in the garage – please consider donating it to the USSA, where it will be put to good use. The vast majority of our children come from homes whose financial resources have been but completely drained by medical procedures, ongoing treatments and therapy, and these items – e.g. rods & reels, optics, blinds, tents & sleeping bags, fishing lures, archery equipment, sunglasses, flashlights, terminal tackle, camouflage – even your company’s logo-embroidered clothing – often become treasured mementos of their outdoor adventures.

Donated goods and gear may be sent to:

USSA/Illinois – ATTN: Ellen

9429 Karlov Avenue

Skokie, IL 60076-1416 USA

  • If you’re a taxidermist or trophy owner/collector, and would like to donate a fish or game mount to one of our young hunters and anglers, please call me at (847) 676-8424 and we’ll make arrangements to have it delivered to a child for the holidays, a birthday, or as a lasting memento of the child’s dream trip.
  • If you’d simply like to show your support by making a modest financial contribution, annual USSA memberships start at just $25, and you can join online at www.ChildsWish.com, or by sending a check or money order (payable to United Special Sportsman Alliance) to the address above:

All contributions are tax-deductible to the fullest allowable extent of the law, and because no one on the USSA staff accepts financial compensation of any kind, 100% of your gift goes directly toward helping children in critical need.

There is, of course, a special sense of urgency here. You see, for these children, there is very little time left to defer their dreams… dreams that can only come true with your help.

Image courtesy United Special Sportsmen Alliance

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