The Big Picture

By Jackie Vogen - August 1, 2008
It's often said that making a difference in the life of another can be a very rewarding experience. So once again my husband and I are volunteering our time and fishing skills through a therapeutic and recreational program. This program that we're involved in is the "Learn to Fish" program. It's a ten week program that our fishing club sponsors. We assist and teach basic fishing skills to individuals of all ages that have special needs and disabilities. We give out of compassion and focus on their special needs by teaching basic fishing skills at a level that each individual can comprehend. We believe that every individual should have an opportunity to enjoy the sport of fishing and experience the simple joy of catching a fish. We work at instilling confidence by personally interacting with each participant. But most importantly, it's more about having fun and not allowing their disability to be a barrier. What brings us back every year? What brings them back every year? It's the magical times that we share together. It's about their big smiles and laughter. This quality time that we spend together has them hooked on fishing and that's what brings us together year after year; it's contagious.

My husband had the opportunity to fish with Andy at the Annual Fishing Derby this year. Andy is 28 years old and has participated in this event for ten years. His favorite species is bluegill and he caught three nice ones that day. Andy loves to socialize and he's easy going. Now I ask you, who do you think had more fun at the derby? I'd have to say it's mutual according to the proud look on their faces; it's evident that they both did.

Last year at the Annual Fishing Derby I had the privilege to fish with Don. Don's needs are somewhat limited as he's confined to a wheelchair, but that didn't stop us from landing one bluegill after another. Although his mobility is impaired, by working a little closer with Don it was obvious that fishing is powerful therapy. Upon taking a bluegill off of the hook for Don, he enjoyed touching the bluegill. He thanked me for making it possible for him to fish that day. The kind words and smiles like Don's are what inspire and motivate me to return year after year.

I've had the pleasure of fishing with Mary now for two years through the "Learn to Fish" program. Mary was new to fishing when she first started out. My objective is to focus on each individual's special needs and levels and use different techniques to keep them interested. When I first started working with Mary, I'd have her put her hand on top of my hand while teaching her to cast. Mary has advanced in her skills and she's now able to cast on her own. Now I can sit back, yell "Fish On" and take pleasure in watching her land a fish. I've also taught her the importance of safety in all aspects of fishing. Fishing has always been an adventure for Mary, and through fishing, she has been introduced to nature. Many times we'll just sit and watch the ducks swimming or the sun setting. I've given Mary a gift that she values, and in return, the rewards have been very gratifying for me. Bonding with Mary and spending quality time together is part of the big picture. Last year Mary received an award for the most improved fisherwoman. I have to tell you that was one very proud moment for us both. This wonderful young lady is one of the reasons that I continue to volunteer. When we're together, our faces always light up with huge smiles. We always have so much fun when we're fishing together and this is what it's all about.

Another special fisherwoman that I'd like to mention is Gini. I recently met Gini but I haven't had the opportunity to fish with her yet. Her parents are Lake Link members and their user names are, "Crazyhunter" and "Countryquilter". Gini has been fishing since she was four years old, and like her two sisters, she loves to fish. In fact, their family vacations always revolve around fishing. Gini likes to fish for panfish and has no desire to fish for other species. Crazyhunter and his family have spent many hours on their family pontoon, or more commonly known as the S.S. Minnow. If Gini gets tired of fishing, you'll find her sitting comfortably in the back seat of the boat relaxing and enjoying a good book. The family often takes day trips on the S.S. Minnow; however, many wonderful camping vacations have included their pontoon. Aside from fishing, Crazyhunter always makes sure that there are beaches nearby for the kids to enjoy. These wholesome activities and spending valuable family time together are what matter the most to Crazyhunter and Countryquilter. They both take pride in their children and their biggest investment has been in their children. Like many parents, they have done without over the years so they could afford to take family vacations. If you were to ask Crazyhunter if he'd rather buy a new vehicle or remodel their home, he'd tell you that the lifelong memories of the time spent together with the family at the lake are what matters the most to him.

Having a disability shouldn't be a barrier to being able to get out and enjoy the sport of fishing. A lady, whose daughter has special needs, once told me that she appreciates everything that my husband and I do. She said that many times it is a thankless job for the volunteers, but from the parental side of things, whenever someone is willing to take the time to get to spend time with someone less fortunate, it's a big deal to the parents. My response to that is, our involvement has always been about the big picture. Even if the participants are unable to thank you, the smiles on their faces have always conveyed that they're thankful. While watching the children and adults reel in their fish, I can see their eyes light up and their smiles; this is what it's all about. Making these memories happen for them inspire my husband and I to continue to make a difference in their lives. Perhaps you can open your heart and make a difference by volunteering in your community; the rewards are huge.

I love what I'm learning and I'm learning what I love to do. I LOVE TO FISH!

Author Jackie Vogen
Jackie Vogen
My name is Jackie Vogen "aka Redrose4u2" and I'm 50 years old. I live in New Lenox, Illinois. I've been married to my husband and best friend, Ken, for 31 years. We've raised two beautiful daughters, who are now grown up, and have left home. We've recently entered into a new stage in our life; we've become "empty nesters". This new independence has allowed me to discover my passion in life; I LOVE TO FISH! I'm what you would call a "Beginner Fisherwoman" or a "Novice". Besides fishing, I enjoy computers, gardening and photography. Through fishing and photography, I've been able to capture my thoughts, while surrounded in the beauty of the sport. I'm looking forward to sharing my passion with you!