WACO, Texas - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Fort Worth District’s Waco Lake Staff hosted children and their families and caretakers for the Haley’s Heroes C.A.S.T. for Kids event Saturday Nov. 14, 2020 at Airport Beach Park.
C.A.S.T. (Catch A Special Thrill) for Kids events bring children with special needs and their caretakers together with community volunteers for a day of fishing they may not otherwise experience.
“C.A.S.T. started at Waco when the C.A.S.T. for Kids Foundation reached out to us at the project office about having an event at Waco Lake,” said Waco Lake Lead Park Ranger Mike Champagne. “Through a lot of planning and coordination and after four years now having the event at Waco Lake, it has grown into this amazing event we look forward to all year.”
Champagne and the lake staff made sure the location was compatible for what the event required with a group pavilion, boat ramp and bank fishing area. In addition, they smoothed out parts of the shoreline to increase accessibility for wheelchairs.
Intent on spreading a positive message that kids with disabilities can accomplish anything, the events include all children, despite their limitations. It is designed to provide children with disabilities the opportunity to enjoy a quality outdoor recreational experience through the sport of fishing. This particular event is named for Haley’s Heroes Foundation which exists to fund and find a cure for Batten Disease, a serious inherited disorder of the nervous system that begins in childhood.
“These kids can do anything; they just need the opportunity,” said Jim Behnken, Western Regional Director of C.A.S.T. for Kids, who initially reached out for Waco Lake’s first event in 2017. “These events give them incredible confidence and drive to try new things.”
The foundation gifted each participant a rod, reel, tackle box with tackle and bait, as well as a commemorative t-shirt, all of which is provided to C.A.S.T. through donations and sponsorship.
After receiving their fishing gear, each participant is paired with a volunteer who takes them to the shoreline to teach them the basics of the sport of fishing.
Behnken started as a volunteer and has been with the foundation for nearly 20 years.
“I love these events,” Behnken said. “Every single person working here is a volunteer; these people are the cream of the crop-just incredible people. The foundation had more events in Texas than the rest of the country combined this year, so, thank you Texas for showing out!”
After a full day of fishing and provided lunch, each participant is then presented with a commemorative plaque which includes their picture, name, date and event information.
“I have had parents tell me after the fact that these events changed the lives of their children,” Behnken said. “One little girl’s parents told me when they got home after the event, she disappeared into her room with her plaque and returned later stating she had measured the walls in her room, and she had enough space to hang plaques of 14 more C.A.S.T. events. Over the years I have heard so many stories like this and it makes these events more than worthwhile.”
Champagne said participating in events like this is one of his most favorite parts of being a Waco Lake Park Ranger.
“Being able to provide a place for these kids to fish and getting to spend time with them while they do so is an amazing experience,” he said. “The impact on the community is huge! Lots of local folks are able to learn about places they can take their children fishing, and for many of these folks it is their first experience fishing. Even through battling thunderstorms, 100-degree heat, and strong south winds over the years, every event has been unique and memorable.”
As with each year of C.A.S.T. at Waco Lake, the foundation invites professional sport fishermen to take part in the event. The Waco Lake event is the only C.A.S.T. event in the country that has a Pro Am fishing tournament tied to it. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 concerns, the fishing tournament did not take place this year. Despite the loss of the tournament, C.A.S.T. was able to invite Bassmaster Elite Tournament Champion, and local Temple, Texas native, Frank Talley to come fish with the children and present their commemorative plaques.
“I’d like to, on behalf of the kids and their parents, thank Jim and his volunteers,” Talley said. “It goes without saying they take up a lot of their own personal time to be able to do this for the kiddos. If it wasn’t for them being organized, this event wouldn’t be pulled off as smooth as it is. It takes a lot of great people to do that and a good mindset for him and his volunteers. It’s a big thing for these people to pull this off so many times throughout the year and not ask for any thanks. We’re thankful from the bottom of our heart to have somebody like them to do this for our kids.”
The C.A.S.T. for Kids Foundation is a public charity that was formed in 1991 to join volunteers who love to fish with children who have special needs and disadvantages for a day of fishing in the outdoors. The Foundation became an official 501(c)3 in 1994 and currently hosts three programs: C.A.S.T. for Kids, Fishing Kids, and Take a Warrior Fishing.
To learn more about C.A.S.T. visit https://castforkids.org/
Waco Lake is operated under the immediate supervision of the District Engineer, Fort Worth District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It is located in the southeastern portion of the Bosque River Watershed, Brazos River Basin, entirely within McLennan County, Texas and to the north and west of the city of Waco, Texas. Waco Lake was authorized for construction under the Flood Control Act approved Sept. 3 1954. Construction of this lake began in June 1958, and deliberate impoundment of water began February 1965.
To learn more about Waco Lake visit https://www.swf-wc.usace.army.mil/waco/