Guest post from Jeremy Wilkerson, Director of Community Development, Wesley House Family Services. Wesley House is a Foundation partner and nationally accredited not-for-profit organization dedicated to protecting and nurturing children, and strengthening families.
Wow, what a day. Alex had a great time. We were all concerned about the weather, but the sun broke through the clouds and pushed away the rain. A smile came across Alex’s face when he walked up and saw the boat he was going to be on; he had never been fishing before. Captain Dave and First Mate, Brandon, greeted Alex and welcomed him aboard the boat. As the engine started and we began to pull away, I could see the excitement brewing within Alex. “Where are we going to fish?” “How long will it take to get there?” “What kind of fish are we going to catch?” All questions a curious nine-year-old would ask.
He sat patiently as we sped through the water, stopping to pick up some pin fish for bait. Alex looked confused, he thought those were our fish. He was relieved when he found out that was only bait; he helped to raise the traps and put the fish in the live well. Off we were again, the wind in our faces as we sat in front of center console talking about what where going to do and what kind of fish we might catch. He also enjoyed learning about the surrounding area, Mallory Square, Christmas Tree Island, what the markers mean, the Lakes Passage, etc.
We finally arrived, the time had come to bait the hooks and get our lines wet. Alex quickly jumped up as he saw the wreck near Boca Grande that we were going to fish at. Eyes wide, he couldn’t believe what he was looking at an old boat that had sunk and all the birds that were sitting on it. Captain Dave and Brandon were so helpful with Alex, showing him how to bait the hook, how to cast and how to reel in back in. Taking the time to explain the things they were doing on the boat, setting the anchor, watching the fish finder, setting out the chum, cutting the bait, etc.
It was slow at first with a bite here, a bite there, but Captain Dave assured us and explained to Alex how important is to patient. As the tide changed, so did the action, just as the Captain had said. Bam, bam, bam, hit after hit; yellowtail snapper, mutton snapper, mangrove snapper, grouper, even a couple of sharks. All you could hear on the boat was “Alex fish on!”, “Alex, the pole is bending”, “Wait, let him take, let him take, now!” Oh, the excitement on his face, eventually we hear him say “You take this one, I’m catching all the fish.” We just looked at each other and laughed.
The ride back was just as fun as Alex got to drive the boat. Yes, we all made it back with no issues.
As we arrived back at the dock, Alex’s younger brother was there. He is usually not phased by much, but when he saw his brother coming back he jumped up and his excitement grew. He didn’t have much interest in fishing because he had never been exposed to it. But when he saw his brother coming back, the fish he had caught, he jumped right in, helped unload the boat, watched as the fish was being filleted and helped feed the tarpon. Now, he wants to go. For him, it will also be used as a reward for positive behavior.
I think Dave and Brandon enjoyed the trip as much as Alex did. It was a wonderful trip. I loved watching as Alex just took it all in. This was an AMAZING experience for him.
Thank you to the Foundation and all that is done for these children. For some, this is an experience they may never have again in their life. For others, this is opportunity to see there is so much more to their lives than the sadness the have experienced. That they CAN have a different, better life. This program does so much for each child.