by Laura Tingo
A donation by the Ohio AFL-CIO Conservation Dinner committee with funds raised from the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance’s (USA) Annual Ohio State Conservation Dinner held in Columbus, Ohio, and the dedicated volunteerism of Brittney Sowards, 19, of Proctorville, Ohio, is putting smiles on a lot more faces, in more places and more often for youth outdoor enthusiasts served by the Special Needs Youth Sportsmen, Inc.
The USA’s gift of more than $4500 will support the nonprofit’s mission to provide youth with special needs safe access and opportunity in the outdoor sporting world.
“The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance gives us an opportunity to give back to those that support us – our members who enjoy the great outdoors and the enjoyment and relaxation it brings when the whole family is together, fishing and hunting and making memories with their children,” said Tim Burga, Ohio AFL-CIO President.
“Special Needs Youth Sportsmen is a strong example of providing safe access and hands-on experience to all youth, early on to foster their enjoyment of the outdoors and instill a lifelong commitment to preserving the great outdoors for future generations,” said Fred Myers, Executive Director and CEO of the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance.
Sowards first learned about the Special Needs Youth sportsmen, Inc. at the age of 14, when a brochure circulated in her classroom inviting kids, like her, to hunt. On her second time out, Sowards, who live with Autism, harvested her very first deer. Since aging out of the program she has enjoyed for five years, Brittany returns to volunteer every chance she gets.
“I just keep going back,” said Sowards, who helps with things like setting up for the events, getting the kids outfitted and making lunches. “It’s a neat experience, I met a lot of new friends…I found a lot of people could relate to me,” she said. “We all finally fit in.”
This year marks the fifth year that the Ohio-based nonprofit has taken youth ages 6 – 18 on elaborate hunting trips with a host of volunteers and community supporters. Over the Oct. 18th weekend, kids had the chance to experience a European-style pheasant hunt. The organization’s founder, George McCalvin, said the USA’s donation will help expand programs and services for participants.
“(The donation) is a great shot in the arm for us,” said McCalvin. “It gives us the opportunity to do more with the kids…to get them in the outdoors.”
It was the USA Ohio State Conservation Dinner Committee, led by Ohio AFL-CIO Field Director Jeanette Mauk, that made the decision about how to allocate proceeds raised by the more than 368 USA member and avid sportsmen and women through support and attendance at the dinner.
“Not only do we want to encourage young people to know about labor but to also get to experience something in the outdoor world,” said Mauk. “This organization provides resources and gives a young adult the chance to experience the outdoors in a safe way.”
For Sowards, the draw to return year after year is about her love for the great outdoors and meeting new friends.
“You get out and breathe the fresh air… enjoy the outdoors,” she said. “One year, one of the little kids came in with his dad and the trucks jumping up and down screaming that he got his first deer! We were all so excited for him.”
“What’s neat about this whole thing is that we never met and, now, we are friends and like family.”
To learn more about Special Needs Youth Sportsmen, Inc., visit their website at: www.specialneedsyouth.org.