Gone Fishin’ Not Just Wishin’ brings joy to special needs students

PELHAM – With bright eyes and big smiles, students from throughout Shelby County squealed in excitement as they reeled in their catch for the day during the 23rd Gone Fishin’ Not Just Wishin’ Exceptional Anglers event at Oak Mountain State Park.

More than 1,000 special needs students from Shelby and Jefferson counties participated in the three-day event, from May 10-12. Shelby County students participated in the event on Wednesday, May 10, and Jefferson County students were split between Thursday, May 11, and Friday, May 12.

Kasie McKee, event coordinator with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said 145 volunteers from several different organizations helped the students cast their fishing lines into the lake at OMSP and pull squirming fish out of the water.

Prior to the event, McKee said the lake was stocked with about 2,000 pounds of primarily catfish and some bass. A gate and nets kept the fish contained to a certain area.

“The goal is for every student to catch a fish and get their picture taken with it,” McKee said. “They get to take their picture home with them at the end of the day.”

After a fish was caught it was released back into the water. When the event ends, McKee said volunteers will be invited back to the lake to go fishing as a way to thank them for helping out with the event. The remaining fish will be released into the lake.

But for students who don’t want to go fishing, a few fish were placed in water inside of a small boat for them to look at touch if they wanted. Other activities included face painting, arts and crafts, a bouncy house and blowing bubbles. Students were also enjoyed to shaved ice treats.

“For a lot of these kids they don’t have many opportunities to participate in outdoor activities, to go fishing or to socialize with other special needs kids, so we’re here to provide those opportunities for them.”

Riverchase Middle School special education teacher Jessica Brown said 35 special needs students from Pelham City Schools participated in the event. Brown said her students look forward to being able to socialize with other students.

“This event allows them to be a part of something. My kids keep on talking about how they’re ready to eat fish for lunch,” Brown said laughing.

Prior to coming to the event, Brown said she and her students looked at fish on the Internet and have been learning about fish in class.

“This event also teaches them to be thankful,” Brown said. “When we go back to class we’ll write thank you notes to the volunteers.”

Alabaster City School’s Creekview Elementary special education teacher Sarah Kendrick said her students love participating in the event and talk about it more than other events.

“They love being outside and being able to fish, and we really couldn’t do any of this without the volunteers because I couldn’t bait a hook or take a hook out of a fish,” Kendrick said.

Kendrick said about 20 kids Alabaster City Schools students participated in the event.

“This event lets them be successful on their level and it helps with their socialization skills,” she said. “Even my most severe kids can be successful. It’s also cool that all the school systems in the county can do something together. It’s fun for everyone to get to see each other.”

See more photos at ShelbyCountyPhotos.com.