There are certain things in life that are almost always guaranteed to make a young person smile.
Opening a present, going for an ice cream cone, or maybe even the sight of a puppy.
However, there is one certain thing that has been putting a smile on special needs children's faces for 60 years, and that is the thrill of catching a trout.
Last Thursday and Friday marked the 60th straight year that the Germantown Grove Club and Jim Thorpe American Legion Post 304 held their Special Needs Fishing Party.
The event is held at the Germantown Grove on the east side of Jim Thorpe and hosts over 250 special needs children over a two-day span. The premise of the event is pretty simple.
Each student is assigned a fisherman. The fisherman's job is to assist the student in catching three fish, and afterward the fish is filleted by a volunteer, bagged and put on ice for the student to take home.
It's an event that 60 years ago started with just a couple of students from a special needs school in Jim Thorpe and has now blossomed into a Carbon County tradition.
"Phil Rogers and Ted Hinger were both members of the Jim Thorpe American Legion and they organized for a class to come over and just have fun at the creek here in Germantown. They were digging for crayfish, fishing, stuff like that," said volunteer Frank Sebelin. "The next year they decided to do the same thing, but they went over to what used to be Kriss Pines hatchery over there in Lehighton. They brought the fish over and then stocked the stream for the kids. Then, each year it just kept getting bigger and bigger. That's pretty much how the whole thing started."
The process for stocking the stream has become a little bigger than in the early years of the event. Volunteers stock the Germantown Creek with about 1,200 fish during the event. The Jim Thorpe American Legion takes care of most of that, with the rest of the money coming from donations. The total cost of the fish comes to approximately $1,800.
A bill that at the end of the day certainly pays for itself.
"The smiles and the laughter get stronger with every year we do this," said volunteer Pat Rogers. "There really is nothing better than seeing one of these kids bring in a fish. For a lot of these kids, this is something they only get to do once a year, so for us to be able to provide that experience for them is a great honor. It's just a really great event and an absolute joy to be a part of."
The students come from all over Carbon County. There are students from Jim Thorpe, Lehighton, Weatherly, Towamensing and Panther Valley. It's not just the children who are grateful for the efforts of the volunteers. The teachers and teacher's aides are also very thankful for what the event provides for their students.
"My class has been coming to this event since 1994, and the kids get extremely excited the closer we get to it," said Panther Valley teacher Tracy Fertally. "We do crafts, we learn about fish, and then once we get here they go with their fisherman and have a blast. This event is very important because it gets our kids outside at a stream and lets them fish the way everyone else does. They learn a lot and it works on so many life skills that we work on in the classroom. It really is an invaluable experience for our kids."
With the overwhelming support from the community and volunteers it's safe to say that this event will stand the test of time.
"The volunteers are what makes this event go," said Rogers. "We're going to be going another 60 years strong, especially with support we have from the community. We have such great volunteers that help us. Everybody knows what they have to do and everything runs so smoothly. It's a great event and we already can't wait for year 61."