Fishing for peace
SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Volunteers and veterans and military personnel enjoy a relaxing, calming day fly fishing at the Indian Mt. Rod and Gun Club stream, through Project Healing Waters.
Man has been fishing for as long as he has been searching for food for survival.
The sounds of water have been soothing man since time began, attributed to having restorative powers.
Thousands of years ago, man found fishing to be a calming and relaxing activity and it became a sport, as well as a means for survival.
Members of Trout Unlimited and the Federation of Fly Fishers understood the mental, physical and spiritual benefits of fishing. Wanting to do something for military personnel in the Washington, D.C. area who were wounded or injured in the line of duty, they initiated Project Healing Waters. It has now expanded nationwide to wounded active military personnel and disabled veterans in Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals throughout the country. This non-profit organization assists them in their physical and emotional recovery by introducing or rebuilding the skills of fly fishing and fly tying.
Participants learn basic fly fishing, casting, tying, and rod building classes are offered. All fishing and tying equipment is provided at no cost. Fishing trips, both one day and multi-day, are also provided at no cost to the participants, all through volunteers who simply want to say "Thank you for your service."
Such a day was recently experienced by 21 vets from the Wilkes Barre Veterans Affairs Medical Center at the Indian Mt. Rod & Gun Club in Kresgeville.
Tom Battista, the president of the Brodhead Chapter of Trout Unlimited and Field Captain for the Indian Mt. Rod & Gun Club in Kresgeville and friend Mike Schwartz, an Indian Mt. Rod & Gun Club trustee, has been fishing with the veterans at area ponds and lakes.
"They fish for pan fish because they like to eat their catch. The ponds and lakes weren't conducive for great fishing. We thought it would be better at a stream, making it more accessible for them. We thought the stream here at the Gun Club would be an ideal spot. We bring them fishing here twice a year, stocking the stream the night before."
Heidi Cebrick is the program leader for Project Healing Waters of the Wilkes Barre Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) and president of Stanley Cooper Sr. Trout Unlimited Chapter. Her husband, Dave, also an integral part of the Project and Chapter, taught Heidi how to fish. Dave's uncle, a World War II veteran, taught him. And now, they are teaching others how to fly fish.
"A few years ago, I thought we needed something to get people excited again about the chapter. I thought we should look for something that helped people, like a service project. I knew about Project Healing Waters and Casting for Recovery (for women with breast cancer). Our son was getting ready to deploy to Iraq. We thought about veterans. It just seemed right."
Her chapter loved the idea and named her Chairman. Then she had to figure out how to get involved with a veterans group and find a place to fish. She knew someone in her Women's Club who was a retired Air Force veteran and she asked her for a contact. Heidi was given the name of Marian Skomsky, a recreational therapist at the VAMC.
"We have a recreational/occupational out patient program and we had a group who wanted to go fishing. It all just fell into place, like it was meant to be," says Marion.
So, four years ago, Project Healing Waters began taking military personel and veterans fishing. Their group fishes from May to October, once a month, twice in June.
But there is a problem.
"My vets don't want to leave the program. They love it," says Heidi.
At Christmas time Heidi's chapter gifts the participants with equipment, determining who is worhty of equipment... someone who will pursue it on their own.
"Our ultimate goal for them is to go fish by themselves and to mentor other vets because they can relate to the vets on a different level than we can," says Heidi.
The vets so appreciate what the chapter does for them that in November they give the Project Healing Waters volunteers a luncheon each year.
It is a year-round program. In the months they can't fish, they learn how to tie flies. They make ornaments out of clear glass balls with flies inside.
Most of the participants are of peace time, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan present military personel and veterans. Some are Korean and World War II veterans.
When fly fishing, Heidi says you really have to be in tune with your surroundings and nature.
"You have to be aware of the bugs, the stream, the fish. You observe and you must be patient."
Lacie McGowan, a CTRS, a recreational therapist at VAMC says they want to provide the best for the vets.
"I wanted to do this to thank them for their service. I wanted them to know that people appreciate them," says Heidi.
Veterans like Dave are very grateful to Project Healing Waters.
Dave, 65, served in the United States Navy from 1964-1978, eight years in the Reserve. A resident of Nanticoke and an outpatient of VAMC, Dave enjoyed his day at the Indian Mt. Rod & Gun Club. He fished as a kid and did some fly fishing when he was 15 but it wasn't until last year that he picked up a fly rod for the first time since.
A cancer survivor of five and a half years, he says, "I needed an outlet. I suffer from bouts of depression. I needed something constructive and creative in my life."
He recalls that he didn't catch a fish last year. "But I had fun."
He has learned to tie his own flies.
"When I get depressed, I take out the fly tying stuff to tie flies and it relaxes me."
His son bought him a magnifying glass to help him see better.
This day, he caught two brook trout, a good day.
"Fishing makes me feel more relaxed. It takes me away from dsitractions. As I tune into fishing, it's like a rhythm, it's soothing. It helps puts things into perspective," says Dave.
Heidi was named Volunteer of the Year for Project Healing Waters' Mid-Atlantic region. She received a fly rod.
"It leads me to believe that Nationals thinks we're doing something right here," she says.
Project Healing Waters is more than just a day fishing. It is a time of socialization and camaraderie. One look at all the men and women who are patiently casting their lines in and out of the gently flowing stream, one can almost feel the healing going on by the water's edge.
(If you would like to learn more about Project Healing Waters, visit www.projecthealingwaters.org. If you would like to volunteer with the VAMC group, please call Marian at 570-824-3529. To learn more about Trout Unlimited's West End Brodhead Chapter, contact Tom Battista at 570-236-1734 or the Stanley Cooper Sr. Chapter, contact Heidi Cebrick at 570-675-4881.)