"The reason I want to be adopted? Because I think it would be fun to have a family".
~ Alex, TMP mentee.
Fun. Is that how you’d describe your family? Not just on your ‘best’ day, but in general? If you’re honest, probably not.
For children without a family, ‘fun’ is but one of the many words that come to mind when asked why they’d like to have a forever home. Let that resonate. The very things that so many of us take for granted are the things that others dream about. Our preoccupation with, and frustration over, the towel left on the bathroom floor for the 27th time suddenly seems trivial.
Perspective is everything.
On any given day, there are over 415,000 children in foster care. Approximately 7,500 of them call Wisconsin home. Right here, in our back yard, the number of kids in the foster system is directly proportional to the population of Sheboygan Falls, Lake Geneva or Monona. It’s staggering when you think about it.
Most of these children are victims of circumstance and have been placed through no fault of their own. They’ve often suffered from trauma, neglect, abandonment or abuse that is inconceivable, leaving them to feel as if they’ve no one to trust. Some of them, sadly, never find a family to call their own. The collateral damage resulting from such tragedies is hard to imagine:
Each year, 23,000 kids ‘age out’ of the foster system, meaning they turn 18 while waiting on a family to adopt them.
1-in-5 foster children will become homeless after the age of 18.
42% of foster children will be convicted of a crime.
While some people in this world will break your heart, others were born to shine a light into the darkness. It’s folks like Jess and Laura Westbrook (Arkansas) and Kaitlin Barnhart (Idaho) who are raising the bar on giving, compassion and understanding. Together, these three visionaries founded The Mayfly Project (TMP), a non-profit organization designed to support children in foster care through the sport of fly fishing. By providing kids with a safe environment, someone they can trust and the chance to connect with nature, mentors for The Mayfly Project offer foster children something that they may have never found elsewhere; the opportunity to begin their healing journey. Having already impacted the lives of over 500 children in 26 states since its inception 5 years ago, TMP is quickly becoming a ‘hope dealer’ to kids everywhere.
Through a series of 5+ sessions, mentees with TMP learn about fly fishing, fly tying and the mental health benefits found in the great outdoors. They learn things like the anatomy of a fly line, the importance of river etiquette and how to ‘read’ water. They’re each given their own curriculum book and the chance to earn badges as a reward for their efforts across a wide range of topics like casting, entomology, safety (on and off the water) and knot tying.
When children finish the program, they’re given everything they need to continue their journey on the water. Thanks in no small part to generous sponsors and donors, TMP is able to provide each child with a fly rod/reel, flies, leaders, tippet and a whole host of other gear.
While being able to land a fish is clearly important to any angler, understanding the tenets of conservation is what makes for a great outdoorsman. Helping to develop such characteristics is paramount to the folks at TMP. With that in mind, mentors also help children learn the value and importance of things like keeping fish wet and rivers clean. By the end of their project, kids are equipped with the ability to get fish to the net as well as advocate for the environment in which those fish are found.
Mentors begin each project by outlining the ‘Characteristics of an Angler.’ Often, it’s these qualities that offer lifelong utility to the kids that are (often unknowingly) learning them. Among those are:
The ability to find ‘brain rest’
Appreciation for the environment
Everything that TMP promotes is designed to be therapeutic in some form or fashion. There’s indisputable evidence that healing properties can be found in nature. Hearing the wind whip through the treetops. Feeling the rush of the smooth, cold water against your legs. Seeing eagles soar through the clouds. As every veteran angler knows, those are the reasons we take to the wilderness in the first place. Imagine being able to give those same experiences to an emotionally weary child for the very first time. Imagine serving as the catalyst that changes the trajectory of an entire life…just by inviting someone to do what you love. Imagine helping a child transition from a life lived in survival mode to one of healing.
If you’d like a snapshot of what it might look like for both mentors and mentees when ‘boots hit the ground,’ view here:
Hippocrates said, ‘Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity.’
The Mayfly Project gives foster children that very opportunity
If you’re so inclined, you can too.
TMP is just getting started in Wisconsin and Aventuron is proud to help promote their efforts. For ways that you can get involved locally, contact your local TMP mentors, Bonnie or Nathan, whose contact information can be found below.
If you’re interested in learning how you can get involved with The Mayfly Project but are reading this outside the confines of America’s Dairyland, you can follow the next few links to buy super cool gear, find information on ways to give or plug into volunteer opportunities across the country.
‘Live It Like You Mean It’ is more than just a Wisconsin tourism motto. It’s a mantra, an anchor point and a way of life for those of us who know the transformational potential found among the pines.
In the words of Jess Westbrook, The Mayfly Project co-founder, “When you get a kid in the middle of a river, some special things happen.
That’s because these rivers are more than just water, they’re where healing begins.
Words by Amber Leach
Contributing Writer and Fish Netter
Photo from Simms Fly Fishing