By Brenda Paquette, Bureau of Reclamation Phoenix Area Office/CAST for Kids Volunteer
The 19th Annual CAST for Kids Lake Pleasant Event was held on Saturday, March 24, with perfect weather for a morning of fishing.
The Bureau of Reclamation Phoenix Area Office and Central Arizona Project (CAP) have joined together to provide volunteers to host 45 differently-abled and disadvantaged children for a morning of fun on the water, the joy of catching their first fish, a barbecue lunch and an awards ceremony.
We have 45 pro bass fishermen who donate their time and boats to take a special child with their parent/guardian out on Lake Pleasant to share their love of fishing. The bond between the child and the boat captain is very evident when they return with their catch and their fish tales of the one that got away.
The CAST for Kids Foundation was created in 1992 by a couple of guys who loved fishing and kids and wanted to bring the two together. Through partnerships with Reclamation, Land Management and other federal and state water resource departments, they have grown from holding 25 events in the West to 64 events held last year all over the country.
The shore volunteers' day begins very early –long before the sun is up. This year, clouds kept the sun from being really hot and the light breeze made us all comfortable. When the CAP Turnouts volunteers (that’s the name CAP has given to its volunteer program) arrive they begin unloading the supplies from the huge truck and quickly set up tables and tent covers for the boat captain registration and then the children's registration with their fishing equipment. Next they get busy setting up the tables, chairs and tents for the 200-plus guests who will have lunch after their morning of fishing. Tables are set up for the Liberty Wildlife birds of prey display, Reclamation Water Smart display, kids craft table and the Coast Guard Auxiliary stations.
The excited boat captains arrive and the volunteers assign them their radio, boat number/truck number, and give them a t-shirt. The children begin to arrive and the excitement in the air makes the early morning hours melt away. The children are escorted through their registration where they receive a hat, t-shirt, rod and reel and a tackle box that they will take home. Everyone going on the boat is fitted with a life jacket and given a blanket to keep them warm out on the water. The escort takes them to pick out a boat and the boat captain welcomes them aboard. They are driven to the boat ramp, have their picture taken by another volunteer and they are launched for their fishing adventure!
After all the boats are on the water, the volunteers begin the preparation for lunch that will be served to the hungry fishermen, children and family members. The cook wagon arrives and the wonderful aroma of the hamburgers and hot dogs cooking makes us all hungry. We listen to the radio calls from the boats announcing how many fish are being caught – it's a good day for fishing!
After a couple of hours, the boats begin to come back to shore. The volunteers valet the trucks to pick up the boats and more pictures are taken of the excited children, boat captains and their fish! They are unloaded from the boats, return their life jackets and are ready to eat the delicious lunch that is being served to them by more volunteers.
During the awards ceremony, each child receives a picture plaque with their boat captain and a goody bag, but the best part is hearing the stories of their fishing adventures. This year we had 43 children participate and each had a unique story to tell –about the fish they caught, about the huge fish that got away and about how they got to drive the boat.
After the awards and stories are complete and the exhausted families leave with big smiles and many memories of their day, the take down of everything begins. We have some afternoon volunteers who are fresh and ready to help disassemble the little city of tables, chairs and tents and all of the supplies that need to be loaded back into the truck. It takes another couple of hours and the volunteers are glad to be headed home themselves.
The event runs like a well-oiled machine, with the volunteers pitching in as if they worked together daily. What is evident is the pleasure you see with each volunteer as they spent their day giving the 43 children and their families a day filled with wonderful memories and stories that will be told over and over again!