In an ongoing effort to introduce women to the outdoors and encourage their involvement in outdoor activities, Lehigh County's Jerry Zimmerman Memorial Chapter and Northampton County's Walking Purchase Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) recently hosted their 10th annual Women in the Outdoors (WiTO) event at the Ontelaunee Rod and Gun Club.
The event offered opportunities for girls and women, ages 14 and older, to learn and try a variety of new outdoor hobbies and skills. A total of 22 classes were offered with topics ranging from shotgun, pistol, and rifle marksmanship to basket weaving, composting, outdoor first aid, emergency survival and dog training.
WiTO coordinator Dana Krisko said the event attracted 215 women; each paid for and picked four classes. Firearm and archery related classes received the most participants. WiTO treasurer, Donna Balkosky, said all profits benefit the education, conservation and protection efforts of the NWTF.
According to a handout detailing WiTO history provided by Katrina Skrapits, president of the NWTF Walking Purchase Chapter, the first event had attracted 18 participants, but each year it got bigger through word of mouth and advertisement.
Skrapits had attended the first WiTO event in 2004 and said her enthusiasm for the outdoors truly began when she participated in that first gathering.
"I went to the first one and absolutely loved it; it got me interested and involved in nature and the outdoors. This event touched the lives of so many ladies in the past 10 years, and it grew through sharing with family and friends," Skrapits said.
Each class was taught by an expert hobbyist or experienced professional. Some instructors had volunteered on behalf of their business, which had sponsored the event. Volunteers from both NWTF chapters and the Ontelaunee Rod and Gun Club facilitated the event through teaching and offering tips to participants, resetting equipment between classes, and providing a welcoming atmosphere.
"It is really great to be able to teach these women how to handle a shotgun, a lot of them are naturals at this, it is amazing how quickly they pick up on instruction," Roger Wanamaker, member of the Ontelaunee Rod and Gun Club and New Tripoli resident, said in between teaching trap shooting lessons.
Second degree black belt Gary Guldin from Baer Martial Arts in Emmaus has been volunteering at WiTO events for three years.
"I like being able to heighten women's awareness about what they can do against a threat while also teaching them how to reduce their risk of attack. Every year it feels great to know that I am somehow helping these women," Guldin said.
Carla Stauffenberg, a New Tripoli resident, had signed up for the self-defense lesson. She had attended a previous year and reportedly loved it enough to invite her friends, who joined her this year.
"I like the pistols, the trap shooting, and the adrenaline. Ooh, and I especially like the outdoor cooking, that was delicious," Stauffenberg said.
Her friends agreed.
Many mothers took the opportunity to spend the day bonding with their daughters. Bethlehem residents Deborah Wancho, 43, and her stepdaughter Kathleen Wancho, 19, had come with 13 of Deborah's work associates from Victaulic. This was their first time at a WiTO event. They were invited by the 13 others who had come the previous year.
"We signed up for handgun class, a crossbow class, and self-defense; so far it has been a good learning experience. I am sure we will be coming back next year, and we will be bringing friends," Deborah Wancho said.
Libby Clements, of Allentown, had been coming to the event for a few years. She and her 16-year-old daughter, Heather, made a tradition of attending WiTO together for Heather's past two birthdays.
"It is really good mother-daughter time," Libby Clements said.
"It's an awesome pressure-free way to learn new skills. The teachers are very accommodating and patient," Heather Clements said.
Scott Richards, president of the Jerry Zimmerman Chapter of NWTF reflected positively on the attendance of the event.
"I know we have some new people here this year and I am glad that they have an opportunity to try and learn how to fish, shoot, and experience the outdoors. I hope we can continue this tradition every year and that some of these ladies will take up some of the hobbies they learned here," he said.