Most anglers head to the lake for relaxation and sport: Even on a bad day of fishing, one leaves in a better mood. Catching some fish – big or small – gives a feeling of accomplishment.
Multiply that feeling by 100. That’s the joy felt by special-needs children from six elementary, intermediate and high schools, including Jemison, Vestavia Hills, Thorsby and Wilsonville.
The past two weeks, school systems have bused special-needs classes to Wilsonville, where Plant Gaston members of the Alabama Power Service Organization hosted children and school staff. Across the highway from the plant, a bucolic scene awaits. A 3-acre pond holds bream and bass up to 2 pounds and more, perfect for holding by small hands.
More than 60 APSO members, including several employees from Local 2077 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), helped during the six fishing events. Gaston folks helped youngsters bait their fishing poles with bits of hot dogs and helped them reel in the catch.
For many, it was their first time to be out on a lake and their first chance to touch a fish. Kids were thrilled and amazed to reel in a fish. Afterward, Gaston volunteers returned the fish to the green waters.
“I love bubbles!” one little boy exclaimed, as he blew bubbles at Justin Bailey, Maintenance team leader, who takes his kids fishing. Gaston APSO provided about 30 large, colorful bottles of bubbles, allowing each child to take a bottle home.
For Jodi Webb, the event is all about being part of the community. The Gaston chemical technician said that fishing with the kids is like “being with family.”
“All of this surrounding area is our family. Gaston is a family,” said Webb, who is in her second term as Gaston APSO president. “We want to be serving our community, and this is how we support it.”
Glass, who has taught for 15 years, said that the day of fishing was a great experience.
“They are just enjoying it,” said Glass, who drove the Chilton County school bus to the plant. “I brought older kids on Wednesday. They loved it. I can’t say enough how nice everyone has been.
“This is the biggest event we’ve done,” she said. “We’ve gone on fishing trips before, but not as nice as this. The facility is so nice,” she said, looking around the shaded pavilion and the wood lodge on the hill, built from timber at the plant’s site.
“It’s just wonderful,” Glass said.
Bailey said that Gaston APSO members decided to hold this year’s fishing extravaganzas after holding a fishing party for Wilsonville schools last year. Plant employees held the events for two schools weekly, on Wednesday and Friday. Many special-needs classes cannot take field trips throughout the year, noted Bailey, event co-chair with Equipment Operator Ramsey Glenn.
“We decided, ‘Let’s fish for the day,’” Bailey said. “For some of the kids, it’s the first time in their lives to catch a fish.
“It’s all about them today,” he said. “If they want to run around the pond, we’ll run around the pond. They overcame fears they had by touching the fish. The teachers were amazed at how much the kids opened up – it was a different world for them.”
Bailey said that many Gaston IBEW employees, most of whom are members of Local 2077, were huge supporters and assisted throughout the fishing days. Some Childersburg High School students also volunteered and were a great help.
Co-chair Glenn, a Gaston APSO member for 15 years, said that the fishing day gave the children the opportunity to do something new and different.
“Some kids have families who are financially stretched because of their health condition,” said Glenn, who fished a lot before his children got older and involved in sports and other activities.
“This is a special time for them. It’s hard to cry when you’re fishing,” he said.