When Scott* reeled in a nice catfish, it was hard to tell who was more excited: Scott or his fishing mentor Will Kirkpatrick.
"It’s a catfish!" yelled Will. "In all these years that’s the first catfish ever caught."
As they pulled in the fish, Will called for a camera to capture the historic moment and together he and Scott held up the catch and beamed.
Each year, Scott and other students from our Gerber and CIRCLE Academy-Urbana education programs have an opportunity to learn a little about fishing as Will has been sharing his passion for fishing with the youth at Cunningham Children’s Home for almost 50 years. Now retired, he, and his wife Vicki, travel up from Texas in the fall to conduct the annual fishing clinic. Will grew up in Urbana and as a young boy fished at Crystal Lake Park with friends who lived at Cunningham. He became a celebrated angler, fishing in tournaments across the United States and internationally, but has never forgotten his ties to Cunningham.
It’s a much anticipated fall highlight for everyone. But beyond just learning how to fish, our youth are learning another lesson; the importance of finding a passion and using that to relieve stress and relax.
By the time youth get to Cunningham, most have experienced a life of neglect and abuse. This traumatic beginning to life has affected their brain development and consequently their behavior. They react quickly and often unpredictably to the stress in their lives. Situations most of us would easily dismiss become triggers that cause these kids to verbally lash out and in some cases become physically aggressive and destructive. Significantly, one of the issues created by prolonged abuse is that our kids simply never relax.
At Cunningham, our outstanding staff work with our kids to literally "retrain their brain" so they can learn how to deal with stressful situations in appropriate ways as well as feel the joy of true relaxation. While doing a challenging and fun activity they are passionate about like fishing, they are also learning how to use it as a way to destress and live a better life.
The Kirkpatrick’s are not psychologists. They are not counselors, social workers or even teachers. They are simply a couple who have a deep passion for children and a love of fishing. So they bring those two traits together to help Cunningham kids heal in a positive and productive way.
Cunningham leverages the special skills of many people to change the lives of the youth in our care. Together, highly skilled professionals and passionate, caring mentors show our kids that life really does get better.
*Our story is real but names have been changed to protect the privacy of our youth.