This Partnership’s All Heart
By Stan Kunzman, Oregon Events Team Leader
The Outdoor Dream Foundation (ODF) is a nonprofit organization based out of South Carolina that grants outdoor adventures to children who have been diagnosed with terminal or life-threatening illnesses. For the past nine years, RMEF chapters in Oregon—including the Central Oregon, Hillsboro, McMinnville, Newport and Tillamook chapters—have proudly teamed up with ODF to provide elk hunts in the Beaver State for children who dream of pursuing the wily wapiti.
During the first four years of the partnership, Oregon volunteers supported one young hunter per year. Over the past five years, we’ve supported two to four children per year. In 2014, we will support three young hunters. The grapevine is obviously working in terms of getting the word out that RMEF volunteers and the citizens of Oregon provide a wonderful experience for these kids, many of whom are traveling out West for the first time.
Last year we supported three children from the East Coast, all of whom shot a bull. Jacob Rhoad, a 13-year-old from South Carolina with muscular dystrophy and not a lot of muscle strength, stood out in particular. He had to be carried on the hunt by his dad or one of the guides. He didn’t have enough finger strength to pull a trigger, so he used an air trigger, which fires the gun when he blows into a tube. One shot and Jake dropped a six-point bull scoring 347 Boone & Crockett. To top the week off, he landed a 14-pound rainbow trout on one of the high mountain lakes in the Ochoco Mountains. He also enjoyed a tour of the U.S. Forest Service Air Center in Redmond that included wildland fire-fighting demonstrations by smoke jumpers.
Getting these kids out on these hunts is truly a team effort. Many wonderful RMEF volunteers and people in our local Oregon communities give generously of their time and resources to make this program successful.
ODF makes arrangements for the transportation for the youth and a parent or guardian. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife provides the tag that is good for any elk between September 1 and November 30. Local ranchers and timber companies offer access to their land and expertise on locating elk.
Cabela’s and Mossy Oak provide the clothing; Columbia River Knives & Tools gives each child a top-of-the-line hunting knife. Thompson/Center and CVA donate rifles, while Leupold provides the scope and Nosler the ammunition. Local merchants donate food and hunting equipment. Local taxidermists donate full head mounts, and local butchers cut, wrap and prepare the meat for shipment at no charge. They’ve been busy, as our hunter success rate over the past nine years has been 95 percent.
RMEF, through its state grant program, provides funds to fill in the gaps, covering expenses such as food, shipping the head mounts, lodging before the flight home and other incidentals. Our chapter volunteers may provide the transportation from the airport to the hunting camp, or help out with the cooking. Sometimes they provide fishing trips, crabbing trips and tours of the local area if the young hunter kills his or her elk early. Each year, Morna and Jerry Bastian from the Klamath Falls Chapter hand craft and donate a personalized comforter for each child.
While we all give to this program, we’ve gotten so much more in return. Sadly, some of the kids we’ve supported are no longer with us. But they’ve definitely left their mark. It’s quite humbling to watch terminally ill children work so hard to kill an elk, partly because it’s their dream, but also because they don’t want to let us down. These kids are all heart.
If you know a terminally or life-threateningly ill child with an outdoor dream, visit www.outdoordream.org or call (864) 226-8775.
If you’re local RMEF chapter wants to get involved with ODF, call Swede French, RMEF Board of Directors, at 503-637-5163.