Gone Fishin’, Not Just Wishin’ returns to OMSP

PELHAM – Hundreds of students with special needs from throughout Shelby County gathered at Oak Mountain State Park on Wednesday, May 9, for the annual Gone Fishin’, Not Just Wishin’ event.

The event, which took place Wednesday through Friday, May 9-11, provided an opportunity for students with special needs to go fishing in the OMSP lake. Over the three-day period, Kasie McKee, event coordinator and fisheries biologist with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said about 1,000 students and 500 volunteers attended the event.

On May 9, students from Shelby County attended the event and Thursday through Friday was for Jefferson County students.

McKee said 80-100 volunteers were needed to help the children fish and the others help operate various activity stations at the event. Whenever a student caught a fish, they took a photo with their fish and the volunteer who helped them before tossing the fish back in the lake. McKee said each student gets to take a copy of their photo home with them the same day.

With the help of monetary donations from Alabama Power and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, McKee said 3,000 fish, mostly catfish and some blue gills, were purchased to fill a designated area within the lake.

“Most of the students here today have never fished before and some might not spend a lot of time outdoors or socializing with others, so this is a good opportunity to help them develop their socializations skills. It’s such a joy for us to be able to do this for them – and to see them sing, dance and just let loose and have fun is so amazing.”

Jessica Brown, special education teacher at Pelham City Schools, said about 40 Pelham students attended the event. Keri Johnson, Alabaster City Schools’ coordinator of special education, said about 150 ACS students were in attendance.

In addition to fishing, face painting, arts and crafts, music, inflatables, a bubble machine, volleyball and other activities were available to students. Lunch was also provided.

“This event is always great because this is a day set aside just for them and they feel like they are a part of something great. Brown said peer helpers from Pelham Park Middle and Pelham High schools attended the event also.

“The Peer Helpers were escorts for our students,” Brown said. “They went around to different stations with them and they were just there to offer their help and support.”

Johnson thanked all of the volunteers and sponsors who helped make the event possible.

“Our kids are getting to experience something that they might never get to do otherwise and it wouldn’t be possible without all of the sponsors and volunteers,” Johnson said.

Volunteer Andy Harper, with Spire Energy, said this year marked his ninth year volunteering at the event.

“Every time that I come it’s such a blessing to see the joy on the kids’ faces when you help them catch a fish,” Harper said.

Harper said some students are excited when they catch a fish and others are terrified is it gets too close to them.

“You might fish with five different students and they’ll each react differently to it,” he said.

“We are blessed in Alabama with outstanding fishing opportunities,” said Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Commissioner Chris Blankenship. “From our Department of Conservation managed county fishing lakes to the rivers of north and central Alabama to Mobile Bay, fishing is a wonderful recreational activity for people of all ages and abilities.”

Gone Fishin’, Not Just Wishin’ sponsors include the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, Alabama Power Company, Spire Energy, Airport Marine, Alabaster City Schools, Bud’s Best Cookies, city of Pelham, Coca Cola, Consolidated Pipe and Supply, Golden Flake, Hoar Program Management, Jefferson County Adapted Physical Education, Jefferson County Board of Education and Transportation, Milo’s, Oak Mountain State Park, Outdoor Friends Forever, Pelham City Schools, Pelham police and fire departments, Publix, Shelby County Commission, Shelby County Schools, 104.7 WZZK fm. and Ziegler Meats.