“We have about 250 special needs kids coming out over those two days, and it’s a lot of fun,” said Grand Haven’s Randy Hansen, a board member at Pursuing a Dream. “We have about 140, 150 elementary school kids coming the first day. We all line up there along the boardwalk and we fish. We’ve done pretty well. We’ve caught a lot of things, usually sheepshead and catfish, of course a bunch of gobies. We’ve caught bluegills, perch and walleyes.”
Pursing a Dream provides all of the tackle, and local bait shops provide bait for the outing.
“We have all the poles set up, and we have a mentor with eight or nine kids,” Hansen said. “The kids come off the bus, we assign them to a mentor, and away they go. That mentor helps them untangle lines, bait the hooks, take off fish, that kind of stuff.”
Each child is accompanied by a parent or guardian, which is a highlight for the kids, according to Hansen.
“That’s a big part of it,” he said. “A lot of the special needs kids also come from disadvantaged homes, so it’s neat that we get the kids and the parents to do something together.”
Hansen noted that more mentors are always needed, and the event is equally as rewarding for those helping the kids as it is for the kids.
“Oh, man, it’s pretty incredible, the feedback we get (from mentors),” Hansen said. “That’s how the name Get Hooked comes in. Once a mentor comes down to help out, they get hooked. They want to help more and more. These kids get a huge smile on their face when they pull up a 4-inch goby. It’s the first fish they’ve ever caught.
“Our mentors fish all the time, and they see the expression on the kids’ faces, reality hits. This is what fishing is all about. It’s an incredible feeling for our participants and our mentors.”
Anyone interested in volunteering with Get Hooked can contact Hansen at 842-6638.