Youth, Lions cast lines, catch fish, create lasting memories

Kids cast and reeled, baited and hooked during the fifth-annual Anoka Lions and Youth First fishing trip on the Mississippi River Aug. 8.

Tom Hammer pilots his pontoon, Hammer Time, to shore as fisher boys and fisher girls wave a hearty hello. Grecia Sanchez and Yeraldin Madrid hold bouquets of fresh-cut flowers harvested from Hammer’s riverside garden. “It’s become a tradition,” Hammer said of gathering flowers from his patch as part of the annual Anoka Lions and Youth First fishing trip. Photo by Sue Austreng

Tom Hammer pilots his pontoon, Hammer Time, to shore as fisher boys and fisher girls wave a hearty hello. Grecia Sanchez and Yeraldin Madrid hold bouquets of fresh-cut flowers harvested from Hammer’s riverside garden. “It’s become a tradition,” Hammer said of gathering flowers from his patch as part of the annual Anoka Lions and Youth First fishing trip. Photo by Sue Austreng

Fish were caught, some were lost, but Lions and youth shared a fishing adventure rarely experienced by these youngsters.

“This is a great experience for them – usually one of the favorite field trips we do – because some of the kids have never fished before,” said Kelly Thorsten, Youth First Community of Promise site coordinator.

“But it’s not just about catching fish. It’s about being outdoors, experiencing something that’s not just being in city life,” Thorsten said, describing the value of the annual expedition.

In order to make it happen, members of the Anoka Lions club donate their time and fishing expertise, as well as all the equipment needed and the pontoons and fishing boats to get the kids on the water.

“It’s great for the Lions, too, because they get to see kids in a positive light. It’s a great generational exchange,” Thorsten said.

Tom Hammer, captain and owner of the pontoon boat, Hammer Time, agreed, saying, “I love to get these kids out on the water, show them something wild and free, teach them to fish a little. These are great kids and they should have a chance to experience this.”

For the youth riding the river in Hammer Time, the captain gives them an additional prize when he takes them upriver and docks at his home and then invites the youth to cut fresh flowers from his garden.

“It’s become a tradition,” Hammer said as two of the girls held clutches of irises, sunflowers, and daisies.

After the morning’s fishing expedition ended, the 22 youth and the Lions gathered at the Two Rivers Peninsula Point Park for a shore lunch, prepared and presented by the Anoka Lioness club. On the menu: chicken and potato chips, coleslaw, watermelon, baked beans, cookies, and bars.

Prizes were awarded to a pair of fisher-girls who landed the longest fish of the day. Vanesa Santana caught a 16-inch bass and Ariana Santana caught a 14.5-inch bass.

Devon Moore standing tall on the Mississippi River shoreline, confident his 11-inch smallmouth bass will win the contest for longest fish caught during the fifth-annual Anoka Lions and Youth First fishing trip.

Devon Moore standing tall on the Mississippi River shoreline, confident his 11-inch smallmouth bass will win the contest for longest fish caught during the fifth-annual Anoka Lions and Youth First fishing trip.

Other summertime Youth First field trips included outings to Skyzone, the bowling alley, a miniature golf course, and Lake George.

Earlier this week, the kids met guides on the Mississippi River in St. Paul where they had a chance to paddle Voyageur canoes.

“That’s a big one. We’ve never done that before, so it’s going to be very special,” said Thorsten a few days before the scheduled Voyageur canoe trip.

About Youth First

As stated on its website, Youth First Community of Promise was established and is led by the active collaboration of the Northwest Anoka County Community Consortium. This is the board by which Youth First is governed.

It includes the cities of Andover, Anoka, and Ramsey, Anoka County, and Anoka-Hennepin School District #11.

A joint powers agreement reflects the first time in Minnesota history that five units of government collaborated to impact young people’s lives and were thus rewarded with the National Association of Counties Award for its replicable and effective programming with at-risk youth and families.

The mission of Youth First is to mobilize individuals and groups to support experiences that ensure a healthy start, safe places, caring adults, an effective education and service opportunities for young people in the greater community of Andover, Anoka and Ramsey.

Program director is Heidi Geiss. She can be reached at Heidi.Geiss@co.anoka.mn.us or by telephone at 763-421-8530.

For more information about Youth First visit www.youth1st.net.

Sue Austreng is at sue.austreng@ecm-inc.com

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