Pacific Power and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife helped give kids with disabilities a day of fun and fishing at the Merwin Fish Hatchery
WOODLAND — Hundreds of the local youth who came out for Merwin Special Kids Day on Saturday (July 9) in Woodland, took home brand new rods, reels, tackle and commemorative t-shirts. A few of them brought home prizes for biggest catch and nearly everyone ate a hot dog.
But even more importantly, after a few hours at the Merwin Fish Hatchery, they went home with fresh rainbow trout on ice, powerful memories and maybe a few fish stories to tell.
“Our goal here,” said Todd Dinehart, vice president of employee experience at Pacific Power, “is to make sure every person leaves happy and with a smile on their face.”
Pacific Power has hosted Merwin Special Kids Day for two decades with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. One day each summer, Pacific Power employees and retirees join community groups at the hatchery east of Woodland to help kids with disabilities and their families fish from wheelchair accessible ponds.
“They just want to show you what they’ve accomplished and you know, it’s pretty cool,” said Kevin Young, of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. “And I think everybody should, at some point in their life, volunteer their time at this kind of event.”
Because of COVID, this year marked the first Merwin Special Kids Day since 2019 and Young said he expected a bigger crowd than usual. In previous years, families have traveled from as far south as Salem and as far north as Olympia to spend a few hours at the hatchery.
Many of the kids are patients at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, Shriners Hospitals for Children, Legacy Emanuel Children’s Hospital, Kaiser Kids and other health care providers from as far north as Olympia and as far south as Salem. Some are in wheelchairs – diagnosed with spina bifida, cerebral palsy, cancer or other serious illnesses.
Families often return year after year and for many a day at the hatchery provides a much-needed break from hospitals and doctor’s offices and an opportunity to focus on what they can do, rather than what they can’t.
Many of the kids have never dropped a hook in the water, much less provided their family with a fish dinner. Their sheer, unguarded delight is what keeps dozens of volunteers coming back each summer.
“I go because I love it that kids have this opportunity,” said Shelley Zoller, HR service center manager at Pacific Power, who’s been volunteering since 2016. “There are a lot of kids who don’t get an opportunity to even get outside the city, to be out and about. So it’s really great for them to be out in a place that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to go.”
This year, Pacific Power volunteers were joined by volunteers from Cowlitz County Fire District I, Fish First, Klineline Kids Fishing Nonprofit, Edge Rods, Southwest Washington Anglers, Swift Community Action Team and the Vancouver Wildlife League. Vendors included Bob’s Sporting Goods, Corwin Beverages, Fisherman’s Marine and Outdoor, Koldkist and Sportsman’s Warehouse.
In addition to serving up lunch and handing out t-shirts, volunteers accompanied each participant and their family to one of the two ponds stocked with roughly 6,000 trout that the hatchery cultivated especially for this event.
The volunteers helped bait hooks, hold the rods and reel in the catch, if necessary. They also cleaned and packed the fish in ice. The limit was five fish per kid.
But the fish were so easy to see from the sides of the ponds and the kids were so laser-focused on their catch, they could have been there all alone, like a solitary angler standing at river’s edge, happy to spend the day with a rod and a reel.
Young, Zoller and their fellow volunteers wouldn’t have it any other way. While the kids were focused on the fish, everyone else was watching the kids, waiting for the magic moment when they pulled their line out of the water with a glistening trout dangling on the hook.
“The kids are so proud of getting a fish,” Zoller said.
“It’s a great experience, and not just for the children,” he said. “It’s a great experience for the adults who get to help them out and volunteer their time to come out and do this kind of event. It’s very humbling,”
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