Nearly 200 youth and their families turned out for Take Kids Fishing Day at the Suncoast Youth Conservation Center (SYCC) in Apollo Beach on April 15. Most of the participants had never fished before.
Hosted by Ironworkers Local 397 and the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA), the free community event aimed to introduce youth to saltwater fishing from the boardwalk and fishing pier constructed by union volunteers at SYCC in 2019.
The wheelchair-accessible structure is the result of a multiyear community service project organized by the USA through its Work Boots on the Ground conservation program. It flanks a restored saltwater pond and marsh adjacent to the SYCC’s 6,000-square-foot education facility.
“We are grateful to the USA for its commitment to supporting youth engagement with the outdoors. The fishing pier they built for us makes a huge difference for visitors, field trip students and summer campers,” said SYCC director Candice Wade.
“Florida’s natural resources belong to all of us, and not everyone gets the chance to grow up with access to nature or guidance on how to engage with the outdoors,” she added. “Events like this empower youth and families to enjoy Florida wildlife in a conservation-minded manner. I especially love that participants received fishing gear so they can continue to apply the skills they learned.”
As youth fished from the boardwalk and along the banks of the marsh, 18 union volunteers from Ironworkers Local 397 and the NFL Players Association, along with USA and SYCC staff, assisted them with baiting hooks, casting, reeling and getting familiar with their new fishing rods and reels, provided by the USA.
“The unions are part of the community, and we are always looking for ways to give back and make a positive impact. We had plenty of volunteers to ensure the kids had a great experience,” said Keven Barber, Ironworkers Local 397 financial secretary-treasurer/business agent, who organized the event. “Between youth events like this and the Multi-Craft Core Curriculum (MC3) apprenticeship readiness program we participate in with high schools, we hope to expose youth to the trades so they consider it as an option when they graduate.”
“At the NFLPA, we look for opportunities for kids to experience activities they don’t normally get a chance to participate in,” said NFLPA Tampa Chapter President Jerry Bell, who volunteered at the event. “It was great to be able to spend time with these kids and show them a few things about fishing. I saw one little girl catch the biggest fish of the day, and it was neat to see how excited she was.”
Throughout the event, SYCC staff also manned four education stations, including fish tagging, knot tying, fish measuring and casting.
The Suncoast 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.
“The weather for this year’s event was great, and the kids caught more fish — black drum and pinfish — than previous years,” said USA Conservation Coordinator Cody Campbell. “We can’t thank the volunteers from Ironworkers Local 397, the NFLPA and SYCC enough for donating their time to give participating families a fun and educational experience and spark their interest in fishing.”