21 Aug Gone Fishin’
On a cul-de-sac near Oak Mountain State park’s fishing pier, swinging school bus doors and jostling children marked both the end of a year’s preparation and the beginning of three days of magic.
Nearly 1,000 students and teachers from Jefferson and Shelby counties’ special needs classrooms put line in the water for the 19th Annual Gone Fishin’ Not Just Wishin’ event May 8-10. Students piling out of bright yellow buses were matched in excitement and anticipation only by the numerous volunteers waiting along the pier. Many couldn’t wait, and had baited hooks already in hand.
“This is something our students look forward to all year,” said Wanda Westbrook, a retired special education teacher who helped found the event nearly two decades ago. “Many of these children never get the opportunity to go fishing outside of Gone Fishin.’ And because they look forward to it so much, it gives us an opportunity to help build their motor skills in the classroom practicing casting and other fishing skills.”
As they put their lessons to work, each student is paired with a volunteer who helps them hook and reel in what for many students is their first fish. This year, 126 of those volunteer partners came from the ranks of APSO – the Alabama Power Service Organization.
“Each year, we see more and more volunteers sign up for Gone Fishin,’” said Beatrice Rafferty, who teamed with Brian Horsley to recruit and organize the red-shirted horde from APSO. “Once someone gets out to the event and gets to see the excitement of these kids catching a fish and the difference it makes, they are usually back year after year.”
To further stack the deck in favor of the eager anglers, Alabama Power and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) team up each year to stock the small pond with more than 10,000 catfish and large-mouth bass. The multiple stockings, as well as handicap-friendly piers and restrooms, fishing tackle donations, arts and crafts and live music, allow the students a special day enjoying the outdoors without limitations.
“This event serves hundreds of people who might not otherwise have access to a fishing experience such as this,” said N. Gunter Guy Jr., ADCNR commissioner. “Without the hard work of our volunteers and the support of the sponsors this event would not be possible. We are very grateful for their help in enriching the lives of these students.”