At Loon Outdoors we believe that sharing the outdoors with young people is a critical part of conserving and protecting the outdoors. People protect what they love and find enjoyment in. Organizations like The Mayfly Project use fly fishing as a catalyst to mentor children in foster care. Their mission is to support children in foster care through fly fishing and introduce them to their local water ecosystems, with the hope that connecting them to a rewarding hobby will provide an opportunity for foster children to have fun, feel supported, and develop a meaningful connection with the outdoors. Brett Zundel, Co-Owner of Loon Outdoors, had the opportunity to chat with Jess Westbrook from The Mayfly Project about their program.
Brett: You guys are all about building relationships with kids. What is it about fly fishing that helps you guys build these relationships?
Jess: We've found that children that have experienced trauma often have a difficult time opening up, so fly fishing is a perfect avenue to keep the pressure off of the conversations, and to just have fun without big expectations.
In regard to TMP, what are you most proud of?
We are most proud of not just the number of kids we are able to reach, but the quality of their experiences with our mentors. Our mentors are so great at meeting these kids where they are at and truly passing on the gift of fly fishing and conservation to the next generation.
What is something that has surprised you in establishing TMP?
We have been surprised and honored to see how quickly the fly fishing community has stepped up to the plate—to mentor, give, and care about our projects and about foster children!
Why are you passionate about kids in foster care in particular?
Foster children are a population that is often overlooked, but one that needs a connection with the outdoors more than most--if we don't take time to lead them there, they may not have anyone in their lives to teach them. Often, these kids have PTSD and other disorders that require coping mechanisms to manage their lives. Fly fishing is a coping mechanism that can help them succeed.
What is the biggest misconception people have about foster care?
The biggest misconception is these kids are really difficult to work with and may cause big problems for their mentors. We actually have found the opposite effect—caseworkers and group home staff call us after the project outings and say they have never seen their kids so engaged and happy at once. The majority of the kids we work with are typical kids, they are just in a crummy situation and need us to get them out for some fun!
When relationships are the goal it can be hard to define “success”, but what do you think of as a “win” in the work that you do?
The win for us isn't a step in a relationship, it's a smile, it's a kid forgetting to worry for a little while, it's a kid that says they are amazing for catching a big fish. It's all about building those positive memories in a world of mostly difficult memories.
Can you tell a single story that helps capture the heart of TMP?
The win for us isn’t a step in a relationship, it’s a smile, it’s a kid forgetting to worry for a little while, it’s a kid that says they are amazing for catching a big fish. It’s all about building those positive memories in a world of mostly difficult memories.
What makes an ideal mentor?
The ideal mentor does not have to be a professional fly fishing guide!! Someone who has a heart for foster children enjoys teaching fly fishing and is reliable!
What advice do you have for someone who wants to take kids fishing?
HAVE FUN - Do not let tailing loops, drifts full of drag or slapping the water with their fly rod ruin the trip!! Simply have fun focus on what the kids want (even if it means putting on a pink bugger because it's their favorite color)!!
Learn more about The Mayfly Project at themayflyproject.com or on Instagram.
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