A big yellow school bus jostled down the rocky dirt road to the welcome table at the Lighthouse Environmental Center in Waretown, New Jersey, on June 23rd. When the bus door opened, thirty young children, who are stationed with their parents at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, bounded out of the bus excitedly, ready for the day’s events. The annual Youth Fishing Seminar is run by The Fish Hawks Saltwater Anglers Club of Forked River and sponsored, in part, by Exelon.
The day began with each child donning a brand new yellow tee-shirt and enjoying a light breakfast. Then they broke off into groups and rotated to five different stations including: casting, knot tying, boat safety, fish identification and fish cleaning/preparation. After a picnic luncheon feast, they had an informative presentation by a person representing a local terrapin association who explained about the different species of turtles native to the local area, and afterward the children did a craft called “fish prints.” The day finished out as each child got a chance to fish off the dock at the beautiful Barnegat Bay, with the catch of the day being blow fish and crabs. Then they were each presented with a brand new fishing pole and tackle box.
What an exciting day of fun was had by all, and what a privilege it was to be a volunteer at this very special event. I couldn’t help but think about what these children go through during their parent’s military service –deployment, the loneliness of moving from place to place and fear of not knowing what their parent’s involvement in combat will bring. Although my heart ached for them, I also felt very proud of their bravery.
As they boarded the bus to go home – tired but grinning from ear to ear – I couldn’t help but feel a satisfaction that in some small way we showed our appreciation and support to our extraordinary military troops by providing a venue for their kids to get out, enjoy a unique experience and have some fun. It made us all happy to see them benefiting from the opportunity to learn a new sport and experience the water and wildlife of the New Jersey shore. Hopefully, this would initiate a lifetime love of fishing and the sea.
And, when all was said and done, the real catch of the day turned out to be our hearts.