Back in March 2012 we began toying with the idea of getting involved with a veteran’s program. Since this would be totally different from any other project the chapter has been involved in, we hoped that members who have rarely or never been active in any other project might be curious enough to become engaged. This turned out to be the case, as within a week or so of putting out feelers, twenty had expressed an interest. Best of all, about two thirds of these were long time members uninvolved with other chapter activities. We have even scored several non-members who have gone on to take leadership roles.
The chapter ultimately signed on with PHWFF to sponsor a program, and in June 2013 we began holding sessions twice a month at Coatesville Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center (CVAMC). These sessions were held on the first and third Wednesday, one session devoted to casting, and the other to fly tying. Several of us opined that getting to tie flies only two hours a month would drive us nuts, so after only a couple of months, we began holding sessions every week. We mix it up during the spring and summer by doing fishing excursions on local impoundments every other week. These are very popular with volunteers and patients alike.
Since many of the patients at CVAMC are only in residence there for six to eight weeks, an important part of our program is to hook up our departing service members with one of the over 200 other programs close to where they live. Not being content to just hand off troops to other programs, regular Coatesville volunteers Jay Breneman and Dave Riggio started looking into the possibility of starting another program to serve local outpatients.
On October 1, 2014 the PHW West Bradford (WB) held its first session. This group meets on the first and third Monday each month at the West Bradford firehouse at Poorhouse Road. Any service connected veteran is eligible to become a participant. Volunteers also get lessons in tying, casting, and rod building. The eventual aim is to have the veterans themselves run the program. At present, we have seven or eight regular participants and about a dozen volunteers.
This past spring a third program was started in the Royersford area. This program has three regular participants thus far, and is headed up by Charles Speakman and Thad Nowakowski. Charles was a patient at CVAMC and attended many of our sessions there. He is a first-class leader and fly tyer. This group meets on the second, third and fourth Mondays. If there is a fifth Monday in a month, they go fishing locally.
How to Volunteer for PHWFF
These programs have forged a lot of strong friendships between volunteers and participants alike. As stated earlier, volunteers need not be experts in the fly fishing arts, you can learn on the job. You can be of great value by accompanying our vets on fishing excursions or other activities like the Lancaster Fly Fishing Show.
If you are interested in an activity outside the realm of usual VFTU projects, feel free to contact any of the following.
VFTU Program Lead
Coatesville VA Medical Center
Ken Van Gilder
PA Regional Coordinator