Making Memories on the Water

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The United Special Sportsman Alliance (USSA) has fulfilled outdoor wishes for families with children with disabilities or life-threatening illnesses nationwide since 2000. In partnership with the Heart of the Valley YMCA, a free fishing event is organized every April at Camp Cha-LaKee near Guntersville, Alabama. This year, sixteen children from Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee, along with their respective fishermen from these states, had the opportunity to participate in a remarkable fishing excursion.

The enthusiastic families enjoyed a delicious breakfast with their fishermen before setting off on their boats. They departed from the dock, brimming with excitement as they ventured onto the tranquil waters of Lake Guntersville, a nationally renowned destination for largemouth bass and giant catfish.

Six students from the Alabama School for the Blind and Helen Keller School participated. Brandon, the director who attended, said, “For many, this was their first time engaging in such an activity. Interacting with seasoned fishermen, they learned the basics of fishing, from baiting hooks to handling the catch. Some even had the chance to steer the boat—a particularly significant experience as many may never obtain a driver’s license.” When asked about their favorite part of the trip, responses varied, but one common highlight was the thrill of being on the water and reeling in sizable catfish weighing 36lbs, 16lbs, and 14lbs.

Peyton’s father, Scott, expressed, “They treated us to a day we will always remember. Peyton caught three catfish, one around 20-25 lbs., one about 15 pounds, and another 10-12 pounds. He really loved fishing. The smile on that boy’s face told me everything I needed to know.” Scott added, “We stayed on the lake all day except for a quick lunch break back at camp. We saw the dam, some beautiful mountains with extravagant homes built on them, and even a bat cave.”

Jared shared his personal experience: “My son LJ enjoyed fishing, and it was a surprise to see him holding a couple of nice fish by himself, one on the boat and one at the dock. Usually, LJ doesn’t touch fish, but he seemed quite relaxed while reeling in the bass. I was grateful for the passion shown by all involved for our kids. As parents of children with special needs, we often face negative and insensitive attitudes from people who do not understand our children. This experience was a breath of fresh air, and I want to thank everyone for it.”

Jeremiah said that his daughter Charlee Sue caught the first fish on their boat, weighing 28 lbs. She reeled it in primarily by herself, with some help from her daddy. She was amazed by the size of the fish. Then, 45 minutes later, her older brother Jackson caught a fish that weighed 16 lbs. The fish stopped biting after lunch, so their fishing guide took them back out on the water after dinner to watch the bats leave the cave. It was an incredible experience, with thousands of bats leaving the cave over the lake.

We want to express our deepest gratitude to the following anglers who have been immensely helpful in making these wonderful fishing trips possible for the families: Bob Brooks, Donnie Long and DJ Long, Cedric Poynor, Lonnie Fountain, Donnie Fountain, Jerry Ishcomer, Jeff Loveless, Johnathan Long, and Wayne Reed—a special shout-out to the Fountains for generously donating fishing rods and tackle boxes. Your support and contributions have made a significant difference in the lives of these families, and we are truly grateful for your dedication and generosity.

We are deeply grateful for Joe Davis, our AL Representative, and his team’s unwavering commitment and hard work, as well as the exceptional support provided by YMCA Camp Cha-La-Kee. Their dedication made this event successful; we couldn’t have done it without them.

We extend our warmest congratulations to all the families on their plentiful catches and the beautiful memories created. This event was a true testament to the power of community and the joy of giving. God bless!

If you are interested in getting involved or know of a deserving child or veteran, don’t hesitate to contact us at [email protected].