Florida Man Mentors At-Risk, Fatherless Children by Teaching Them To Fish
Will Dunn is an avid angler. He grew up on boats, fishing off the coast of the Florida Keys with his father who ran a lobster business. Fishing has always been a part of his life, but it wasn't until 11 years ago when he met Cameron Delong that he realized the power it had to change lives.
"I had a little neighbor, and I found out he was fatherless," Dunn told Southern Living. "His dad wasn't part of his life. I just started taking him every weekend fishing with me. It changed his attitude, he started doing better in school, he was being more respectful to his mom and sister."
Once Dunn saw the positive effect fishing had on Delong, he made it his mission to replicate the success with other kids in need of mentorship. He connected with group homes and foster programs in Central Florida, taking groups of 20-25 kids fishing at a time. Take a Kid Fishing Inc. was born. Digging into his own bank account, he bought reels and rods and chartered boat trips, all in the name of teaching underprivileged and fatherless children to fish.
But it wasn't just about fishing. Dunn said the trips allow kids to feel supported and cared for. Fishing teaches them life skills, responsibility, patience, and teamwork. It also gives them the chance to let loose and have some fun.
"Ninety percent of the kids have never been on a boat," he said. "They're from less fortunate situations. A lot of them have been yanked from their families or their families have been struck by tragedy. But you get out on the water, you forget about all your troubles."
Over the years, Take a Kid Fishing Inc. has mentored more than 1,500 children through more than 200 fishing trips and 5,000-plus fish caught. Since officially becoming a 501c3 nonprofit three years ago, Dunn has been able to grow his impact through donations and partnerships with companies like L.L. Bean, who created a video on Take a Kid Fishing Inc. in 2019.
He now has volunteers, mostly from his church, who help execute his "ministry" at sea. Though they only travel 11 to 12 miles offshore, the difference a day on the water can make means the world.
"What keeps me going is these kids," he said. "One kid we've taken out lost his dad last year in a car accident. He wants to become a captain when he gets older for less fortunate kids. You're sowing a seed for these kids who look up to you, but you're also sowing a seed in their lives that makes a difference."