Herrin, IL — More than 70 youth gathered at Herrin City Park, May 20, to wet a line during the Take Kids Fishing Day hosted by the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA) and Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) Local 773.
A group of 20 volunteers from Local 773 were on hand to help the kids bait hooks and catch catfish, bass and panfish from the city park lake during the free community event. Later, union volunteers served lunch to the children and their families, and each young angler went home with a free rod-and-reel, courtesy of the USA.
Overall, union members donated more than 80 hours of their time in planning and putting on the Take Kids Day event in Herrin.
“This is the first time our community has had an event like this in quite a while,” says Jerry Womick, LIUNA International Midwest Region Representative and co-organizer of the Take Kids Fishing Day in Herrin. “At one time another group held an annual fishing event for special needs children, but there hasn’t been anything like that for a few years.”
As a USA Board Proxy, LIUNA International Assistant Regional Manager Matt Smith is familiar with all the community-oriented programs the USA offers and proposed reviving a kids’ fishing day.
“This area in southern Illinois is rural and there’s a lot of interest in hunting and fishing among the people who live here,” says Smith. “When Jerry and I spoke about starting a Take Kids Fishing Day, we knew it would be a perfect way to connect with our union members, and for the union members to connect with the community in general.
“The USA also deserves our thanks for helping us get the kids outdoors to enjoy nature and the sport of fishing.”
USA Board Member John Paul (JP) Smith, Executive Assistant/Chief of Staff to the National AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer, attended the event not only as a union representative, but also as a father whose 11-year-old son participated.
“The USA and the laborers of Local 773 did a fantastic job,” he says. “For people who have not, for whatever reason, been exposed to the outdoors, this is a nice, easy way to get some 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. Afterward he asked how soon we could go fishing again.
“In my opinion the Take Kids Fishing Day program might be the best thing the USA does. It gets them off their screens for a little while and exposes them to nature and conservation. And as a board member, seeing firsthand what the organization and volunteers do makes me appreciate them even more.”
Womick also credits strong support from the community for the event’s success. “Mayor Steve Frattini and Herrin Park Board District board member Bob Sciffilo were behind the idea from the beginning and were instrumental in moving it forward,” he says. “We’re all excited to be working with the USA to host an event for the kids that hasn’t been available to them in a while. And we’re already looking forward to next year; making it bigger and better, and perhaps inviting volunteers from the other building trades to join in.”
“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 USA undertaking. Local 773 helped with a big project at the North Marcum Recreation Area on Rend Lake, Illinois, that involved a pollinator trail, state-of-the-art archery range and a mountain bike trail,” says USA Conservation Coordinator Cody Campbell. “The fishing event is just another example of how union members band 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 USA’s Work Boots on the Ground program with support from USA national partners Provost Umphrey Law Firm, Union Plus, and Humana as well as founding partners UIG, ULLICO, Bank of Labor, AFL-CIO Investment Trust Corporation, and Buck Knives.