Herrin, Ill. More than 70 youth gathered at Herrin City Park on May 20 to wet a line during Take Kids Fishing Day hosted by Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA) and Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) Local 773.
A group of 20 Local 773 volunteers were on hand to help the kids set hooks and catch catfish, bass and panfish from the city park’s lake during the free community event. Later, union volunteers served lunch to the boys and their families, and each young angler went home with a free rod and reel, courtesy of the USA.
Overall, union members donated over 80 hours of their time to plan and organize the Take Kids Day event in Herrin.
“This is the first time our community has had an event like this in quite some time,” says Jerry Womick, LIUNA International Midwest Region Representative and co-organizer of Take Kids Fishing Day in Herrin. “At one point, another group held an annual fishing event for children with special needs, but there hasn’t been anything like it in a few years.”
As a proxy for the US board, LIUNA International Assistant Regional Manager Matt Smith is familiar with all of the community-oriented programs the US offers and proposed reviving a day of fishing for kids.
“This area in southern Illinois is rural and there is a lot of interest in hunting and fishing among the people who live here,” says Smith. “When Jerry and I talked about starting a Take Kids Fishing Day, we knew it would be a perfect way to connect with our union members, and for union members to connect with the community at large.
“America also deserves our thanks for helping us get kids outdoors to enjoy nature and the sport of fishing.”
US board member John Paul (JP) Smith, executive assistant/chief of staff to the AFL-CIO national secretary-treasurer, attended the event not only as a union representative, but also as a father whose 11-year-old son years participated.
“America and the workers at Local 773 did a fantastic job,” he says. “For people who, for whatever reason, haven’t been exposed to the outdoors, this is a nice and easy way to get a little exposure.
“My son is autistic, and it’s the first time I’ve been able to take him fishing in a somewhat controlled environment. He learned to cast his rod and got to touch a fish for the first time. Then he asked when we could fish again.
“In my opinion, the Take Kids Fishing Day program might be the best thing America is doing. It takes them off their screens for a while and exposes them to nature and conservation. And as a board member, seeing firsthand what the organization and the volunteers do makes me appreciate them even more.”
Womick also credits the strong support of the community for the success of the event. “Mayor Steve Frattini and Herrin Park District Board Member Bob Sciffilo were behind the idea from the beginning and were instrumental in moving it forward,” he says. “We are all excited to work with the US to host an event for children that hasn’t been available to them in a long time. And we are already looking forward to next year; making it bigger and better, and perhaps inviting volunteers from other construction trades to join.”
“While this was the first Take Kids Fishing Day for Local 773, it’s not the first time this group has been involved with a US business. Local 773 helped with a large project in North America Recreation Area. Marcum in Rend Lake, Illinois, which involved a pollinator trail, a state-of-the-art archery range, and a mountain bike trail,” says US Conservation Coordinator Cody Campbell. “The fishing event is just another example of union members coming together for the benefit of their communities,”
The Herrin event was part of a series of free, community-based Take Kids Fishing Day events organized through the US Work Boots on the Ground program with support from US national partners. Provost Umphrey Law Firm, Union Plus, and Humana, as well as partners UIG, ULLICO, Bank of Labor, AFL-CIO Investment Trust Corporation, and Buck Knives.
Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA): USA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to unions whose members hunt, fish, shoot, and volunteer their skills for conservation. America is uniting the union community through conservation to preserve North America’s outdoor heritage. For more information, visit www.unionsportsmen.org or connect on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Ground Work Boots (WBG): WBG is America’s flagship conservation program that brings together union members willing to volunteer their time and expertise for conservation projects that enhance and enhance public access to the outdoors, conserve wildlife habitat, they restore America’s parks and mentor youth in the great outdoors. The US Work Boots on the Ground program works closely with federal, state and local agencies and other conservation groups to provide the labor needed to complete critical projects that might otherwise go undone.