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“I caught a fish and saw so many dolphin,” exclaimed Alexander Silcock, 14, of Huntington Beach. “It was so fun!” Alexander and his brothers, David, 12, and Jordan, 13, all afflicted with disabilities, have never been fishing off a boat in the ocean before. David is the competitive of the three and hoped to catch the biggest fish of the day.
Thirty-three kids with special needs experienced the thrill of sportfishing in this first-time event in the waters off of Dana Point thanks to Fish for Life, a nonprofit organization.
Alexander, who had never been on a boat before, joined boys and girls afflicted with Cerebral Palsy, Epilepsy, Autism, Down Syndrome, brain injury, mental retardation and other conditions aboard Dana Wharf’s 95-foot Dana Pride following an introduction and red carpet journey down the ramp to the boat.
“We wanted the kids to feel exceptionally special, so we rolled out the red carpet for them—literally,” said Fish for Life Founder, Jim Holden. “Our goal was to give these kids an adventure they wouldn’t typically get to enjoy—a day on the ocean catching fish and experiencing all of its wonders, including dolphin, birds, sea lions and the majesty of the sea.”
The event was sponsored by Friends of Rollo and Dana Wharf among others. Friends of Rollo is a nonprofit organization that provides ocean adventures for over 50,000 kids annually throughout Southern California. “Jim did a great job pulling this together—it was well organized and everyone did their part to ensure these kids had a memorable experience,” said Friends of Rollo Director John Rowe.
“Elias loves dolphin, so going through the huge pod of dophin just made his day!” said Elias’ mom, Janelle Bentancourt. Elias, 16, suffers from Cerebral Palsy and is in a wheelchair, but that doesn’t stop him from playing baseball, swimming or traveling and it certainly didn’t stop him from enjoying the fishing excursion. “Seeing all the dolphin was the best. They were all around the boat! The fishing was fun, too,” said Elias.
“Are you ready to catch some fish?” renowned marine artist Wyland asked the anxious crowd who screamed in delight and anticipation. “You are all such incredible kids and I hope you find your love of the ocean like I have.” The noted “Marine Michelangelo” donated signature prints depicting ocean life and mammals.
Kids, family members, mentors, volunteers and crew were welcomed by Donna Kalez of Dana Wharf Whale Sportfishing and Watching and Dana Point Mayor Steven Weinberg. “We take hundreds of kids fishing every year through our Kids Club program, but this was a chance for us to introduce the sport of fishing to these kids who really wanted and needed the experience,” said Kalez. “This event really helped me to see the joys that fishing can bring to special needs children. I am hooked on this program and Dana Wharf will continue to support it.”
Escorted out of the harbor by the Orange County Sherriff’s Fire Boat, the adventure began with a demonstration of safety procedures (how not to hook each other), how to bait, cast and reel in their days’ catch of Mackerel, Calico Bass and Sculpin. One Stingray was caught, displayed to the kids and then released back into the ocean.
Volunteers included fishing team leaders, food servers, photographers and a videographer. Fishing team leaders ensured safe and responsible fishing practices were followed while food servers passed appetizer trays and saw to the anglers’ every need. Lunch included the perfect bagel sandwiches provided by Bagel Shack and Billy’s Market, both of San Clemente.
“It was really cool,” said volunteer Holly Pope, 13. “It was fun watching everyone help each other catch fish—and nobody got seasick.”
“Thank you so much for providing our family with such a wonderful fishing experience. We never thought we, especially our son Alex, would enjoy it so much. He was very excited that he actually caught three small fish. We will treasure the memories and are definitely more comfortable fishing with Alex on our own,” said Alex’s Mom Jenny Tran.
The event was inspired by Jeffrey Kutcher, a boy who suffers from Cerebral Palsy and who Holden has befriended and encouraged for over three years. “No words can describe this event and how proud I am that my son was the inspiration. My sincere thanks to Jim for all the incredible work he put into this unbelievable project for these special kids who, for the most part, are ignored by society,” said Gifi Kutcher, Jeffrey’s mom.
The trip was booked within 24 hours of confirming with Dana Wharf and there are 21 kids on a waiting list for the next one. The demand is high, but the funds are low. Fish for Life is actively pursuing sponsors for future events. “Even with the generosity of our supporters, these events cost money and take a lot of time. All donations are 100 percent deductable and go directly to facilitating fishing trips for special needs kids,” explained Holden. For information about Fish for Life or to donate, please visit www.fishforlife.org.