Hundreds of at-risk youth will experience the joys of hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities under the guidance of caring mentors, thanks to a $5,000 grant from the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA) United Outdoors Conservation Fund.
The USA recently issued the grant to Pass It On – Outdoor Mentors. Based in Wichita, Kansas, Pass It On partners with state agencies, conservation and youth organizations to introduce youth to the outdoors.
Stemming from a partnership between Kansas Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, Pass It On takes a unique approach to outreach by concentrating on at-risk children with little or no connection to the outdoors. These children typically come from low-income, single-parent homes, and most would never have the opportunity to learn about fishing, hunting or the shooting sports.
The USA grant will be used to recruit at least 15 USA members to serve as long-term mentors, as well as manage the resulting youth-mentor relationships and organize outdoor activities for youth on the waiting list for a mentor.
“USA members who have a passion for the outdoors and successful careers in the trades serve as excellent role models for at-risk youth,” said Pass It On President Mike Christensen. “The goal is to lead participants to a life that embraces the great outdoors and give them a vision of a life greater than that of their current environment.”
Case in point: USA Member Dana Schweers. Mentored by Christensen as a teenager, Schweers, of Valley Center, Kansas, is now an avid outdoorsman and hard-working member of Sheet Metal Workers Local 29—part of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART).
“There’s no doubt I wouldn’t be the man I am today without him,” Schweers said of Christensen. “I was 12 or 13 when we met. Our family didn’t have a lot and my dad was disabled, so he couldn’t take me hunting or fishing. Mike stepped up and introduced me to the outdoors. He took me fishing or hunting almost every weekend I didn’t have a football game. And when I had a game, he’d always be there, cheering me on.
“Mike also encouraged me to apply for a Sheet Metal Workers apprenticeship,” Schweers noted. “I was hired as a helper until I got into the apprenticeship program, which provided me with four years of on-the-job training before I became a journeyman.”
Schweers also volunteers his time introducing youth to the outdoors. “It’s important for me to give back because Pass It On gave so much to me,” he explained. “Volunteering is also very rewarding. You can literally help change someone’s life for the better. Plus, it feels good to watch kids enjoy their first hunting or fishing experience. The excitement on their faces is priceless.”
Pass It On is among the first recipients to be awarded a USA grant from the United Outdoors Conservation Fund, which was unveiled in late 2018 to expand the organization’s conservation footprint. Through a grant application process, the fund provides financial assistant to union-based organizations, conservation groups and agency partners to execute impactful conservation and access projects or outreach programs.
“The launch of the fund last year represented a major stride toward further growth in the number of conservation projects and outreach events the USA, our union locals, conservation allies and agency partners can accomplish,” said USA Conservation and Communications Director Forrest Parker. “The grant awarded to Pass It On’s mentoring program is not just a first step along that path, it’s a shining example of where it will lead.”
“Too many children today never get the chance to experience the great outdoors many of us know and love,” added Christensen. “We have to step up our efforts to get them outdoors. USA members are ideal outdoor mentor candidates, as they represent the backbone of this country—hard-working, responsible, ethical men and women who want to share their passion for the outdoors with a child. We’re looking forward to working with USA to get more kids outdoors, hunting and fishing!”
For more information on the United Outdoors Conservation Fund or to apply for a grant, visit: https://unionsportsmen.org/grantfund.