Union Insurance Group Committed to Preserving Outdoor Heritage
Union Insurance Group (UIG), a founding partner of the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA), is now three years into its five-year commitment to ensure that youth in Illinois have an opportunity to learn the values of nature through exploration, self-discovery and the development of new skills.
UIG and President Chris DeCaigny pledged a $100,000 grant over five years to be administered by the USA to the Torstenson Youth Conservation Education Center (TYCEC) located 100 miles northwest of Chicago near Pecatonica, Illinois. It was the result of a relationship he developed with the center over several years.
DeCaigny discovered the TYCEC, operated by the Illinois Conservation Foundation (ICF), when his son William, now 21, participated in a youth duck hunt as a 12-year-old. “I’m a fisherman, not a hunter,” he said, “so an organized youth hunt at the Torstenson Center offered a great opportunity to introduce him to the sport, and he took to it immediately.”
Recognizing that his son’s love of hunting and the outdoors helped him develop a strong sense of responsibility toward wildlife and nature while deflecting his attention away from the bad habits and behaviors that tempt young people, DeCaigny decided to support the TYCEC in whatever way he could.
“It inspired me to think that other kids should have the same opportunity to go hunting, fishing, hiking, camping or to do whatever outdoor activity they enjoy,” DeCaigny said. “Any time they spend experiencing the outdoors and not playing video games or being consumed with social media is a win for us all, right?
“When you see something that benefits so many children—anywhere from 5,000 to 9,000 kids go there annually—well, from my standpoint, the UIG grant helps connect a lot of kids with outdoors. We’re doing a great, great thing…the right thing.”
The ICF is a non-profit organization created to support the Illinois Department of Natural Resources through fundraising and providing financial support for state programs, such as hunter safety education, disabled outdoors and Becoming an Outdoors Woman programs among others. Initially, the Torstenson property was intended to be a place where these programs would be put into practice, but it expanded to include mentored hunting, fishing and conservation education, according to ICF Executive Director Steve Ettinger.
“We’re 100% privately funded,” he said. “We receive no federal or state appropriations, grants, or anything like that. So, a gift like this from UIG means a great deal to the ICF and Torstenson Center.”
The 750-acre facility, including an 11,000-square-foot lodge with a large kitchen, sleeping quarters and meeting/learning rooms, serves schools, scouting organizations, park districts and other outdoor related groups throughout the state. It also features a shooting range for both firearm and archery training, a stocked fishing pond, hiking trails as well as age-appropriate curriculums, tools and equipment young people need to learn about the natural world.
“Maintaining the lodge and grounds has been our biggest challenge, and for several years we had to defer some of that maintenance,” Ettinger explained. “Since Chris DeCaigny connected us with the USA and its Work Boots on the Ground conservation program, we’ve been able to replace the roof, make structural repairs to the lodge and have the learning center painted.
“Our next undertaking is to have the lodge’s exterior refinished and resealed, which is about six years overdue. Thanks to UIG and the USA, we’ve been able to catch up on these big projects while continuing to provide top level programs for the kids.”
“Chris DeCaigny has supported the USA from its beginning,” said USA Board Chairman and President Emeritus of the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers & Allied Workers Kinsey Robinson, “and he’s the reason for the relationship between the USA and TYCEC. He wanted the UIG grant to be connected to the USA and was the spark plug behind several of the projects the USA and our union volunteers have completed at the center—all because of his strong commitment to providing youth the opportunity to learn about and enjoy the outdoors.”
Watch Video about the USA’s Inaugural Illinois BBQ Bash that helped raise funds for the TYCEC.