Luring kids to nature through fishing
Jim Owens uses bass fishing to hook kids on nature. His organization, C. A. S. T. for Kids Foundation, organizes events around the country...
Seattle Times staff columnist
Jim Owens uses bass fishing to hook kids on nature.
His organization, C.A.S.T. for Kids Foundation, organizes events around the country in which volunteers take kids out in their boats for a day of angling.
The program is aimed at children 6 to 18 who have disabilities or who come from disadvantaged backgrounds.
A sponsor told me about one of the events in Renton, where Owen and one of his two assistants work. I paid Owens a visit to find out more.
First, he's not the other Jim Owens, the late Husky football coach. This Owens is very much alive, despite a heart attack ("Next time you think about reaching for that piece of bacon on your plate, don't," he advised me). He's also survived cancer.
Owens told me that when he was growing up in Garden Home, Ore., his uncles taught him to fish for salmon and trout, but he didn't discover bass fishing until he was 30 or 31.
He was out of work in 1982 and had free time between job searches, which he'd sometimes spend fishing. Someone told him about bass fishing, and after a day of chasing salmon near Ilwaco, he and his wife ventured into a marsh looking for bass.
Owens said he wiggled his lure "and pow, a bass came up and hit it, exploded on it, threw up pieces of branches and wood and everything." He hooked the fish and was hooked by the experience.
He started going to bass-club meetings, and in 1990 was elected president of the state bass federation.
At his first national convention as president, "I saw what other states were doing [with conservation and youth programs], and I was embarrassed," he said.
Owens started exploring ideas, and at his second convention, he met a speaker from the federal Bureau of Reclamation, and asked about partnering to organize programs for disabled and disadvantaged kids.
Owens' first event in 1992 was at a man-made reservoir, Banks Lake in Eastern Washington.
Ten kids and 10 boaters participated. (Every child has to be accompanied by a parent or guardian, too.)
Owens took one of the kids on his boat, a child with cerebral palsy. "When he hooked his first fish, that was just incredible."
Owens saw what a big deal it was for the children learning what they are capable of, and it motivated him to keep the program going. He created the nonprofit, added an event in Renton, another in Boise. Then he started getting phone calls from others saying, hey, we want to do this.
At first, Owen worked as director of the bookstore at South Seattle Community College and ran the program in his spare time. But it grew so much he had to make a choice. He quit his job to run C.A.S.T. full time in 1998.
Now, kids in more than 25 states participate each year, but the devastated economy has made putting on the events harder. Owens says they've been supported by government-agency sponsorships, support from clubs like Kiwanis, individual donors and businesses.
But a lot of that money has dried up. Owens said a grant from Walmart "saved our butts" for the Washington events this year.
The three staffers took pay cuts so they wouldn't have to reduce the number of events, and they still give each kid a rod and reel and tackle box to encourage the child to keep fishing.
Owens is concerned about the money, but he can't imagine stopping.
"These kids all deserve the opportunity to enjoy the things other kids enjoy," he said.
It would be a shame to let a good one like this slip away.
You can learn more about the program at www.castforkids.org.
Jerry Large's column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or email@example.com.
About Jerry Large
I try to write about the intersections of everyday life and big issues. I like to invite readers to think a little differently. The topics I choose represent the things in which I take an interest, and I try to deal with them the way most folks would, sometimes seriously, sometimes with a sense of humor. My column runs Mondays and Thursdays.
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