Despite the continued issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 was a year in which the Newington, Connecticut Program of PHWFF adapted to the situation and overcame a constantly changing environment.
During the suspension of in-person activities, Newington went virtual and stayed connected with their veteran participants through direct telephone calls, emails, and weekly Zoom calls. They kept both veterans and volunteers updated on PHWFF’s reengagement plans and hit the ground running with activities and events as soon as they could. While the new protocols were a challenge, they were met head on, and the program moved forward and grew.
As soon as in-person outdoor restrictions were lifted in May, the program ramped up outdoor fishing activities with their veteran participants. While an unprecedented period of rainy weather and unfavorable water conditions resulted in several of their fishing outings being cancelled, the following trips were held:
May 19, 27and October 27: Limestone Trout Club, Canaan, Connecticut
Limestone Trout Club, a private fishing club located on 94 acres in northwest Connecticut has been a longtime supporter of PHWFF. It offers our veterans a unique fly-fishing opportunity with easy access, to six stocked fishing ponds and has an onsite clubhouse. “This is one of the favorite fishing locations of our veterans,” Assistant Program Lead John Ferrantino said.
June 2 and June 10: Washington Rod and Gun Club, Washington Depot, Connecticut
The Washington Rod and Gun Club was a new venue for Newington’s veterans in 2021 and allowed them to access to three miles of restricted waters along the Shepaug River in beautiful Washington Depot, CT. They look forward to returning with veterans in 2022.
October 6: Rhode Island Mobile Sportsfishermen, Charlestown, Rhode Island
The RIMS’ fishing outing was their first saltwater fishing trip along the pristine shores of Charlestown, R.I. Their veteran participants enjoyed the venue and comradery and have been invited to return in 2022.
Once in-person indoor activities were permitted, Newington reinstituted their monthly fly-tying sessions at the American Legion Post 117 in August located within one mile of the Newington VA Hospital. In addition to fly tying sessions, one of their volunteers conducted an impromptu session on Euro Nymphing fishing techniques and tactics. These activities were well attended by veteran participants, and it was great for everyone to be back together again.
2021 was also a year of growth for the Newington program for both veteran and volunteer participation. Participating veterans increased from 17 to 23 (35% increase) and volunteers increased from 27 to 31 (15% increase). This is one of the largest increases since the Newington program launched nine years ago.
In addition to the 1,192 hours put in by their volunteers, the program has been very fortunate to receive several financial donations that will help to support their on-going program activities; including a fishing trip to the Adirondacks for a group of veterans in 2022.
“We were fortunate to receive many generous donations of fly fishing equipment, fly-tying materials, and a drift boat that is undergoing minor refurbishment over the winter by one of our program’s vets,” Ferrantino said. “Donations such as these allow us to continue to provide high quality programs and experiences for our veterans.”
On a somber note, the Newington program lost a longtime friend and volunteer in 2021, Howard Gomme. Gomme was a constant presence at their meetings and events. Gomme also provided countless hours volunteering in numerous ways such as: photographing events, assisting in various roles at their outings, building portable fly-tying stations, and all while building comradery and relationships amongst their veterans and volunteers. His presence is missed.
As they move into 2022, they will continue their virtual and in-person outreach efforts and have various activities and events being scheduled throughout the year in support of our veterans.
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