Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF) takes great pleasure in presenting the Phil Johnson Exceptional Leadership Award to James Christian for his dedicated and inspiring service to our organization from 2014 to 2019. During this period, his selfless efforts and extreme generosity were directly responsible for the initial start-up, growth, and continuous improvement to the organization’s Program in Southwest Virginia.
In the spring of 2014, PHWFF recognized that Virginia’s Southwest Region lacked any programs. After canvassing the ten county area, PHWFF hosted several fly fishing outings to attract both disabled veteran participants, volunteers and funding. Providentially, at the very first outing, James Christian, a Vietnam veteran, joined as a participant. He barely fished an hour before announcing he wanted to lead a local effort to establish a PHWFF Program for Southwest Virginia. By the end of the summer, he finished Program Lead training and attracted some volunteers to assist him. In five short years, James created a large and vibrant program including over 40 volunteers and disabled veteran participants.
The Southwest Virginia Program maintains an extraordinary geographical reach across ten Virginia counties – covering roughly 15% of the state. Undaunted, James set about contacting and speaking to every veteran organization, every civic organization, several fly fishing organizations, and most churches in this area. As direct result of his personal commitment to outreach, he rapidly filled the ranks of volunteers and veteran participants alike – establishing a firm base for interaction with the multiple communities. Consequently, the United Way of Southwest Virginia recognized this program as the Top Volunteer Group in 2017 and in the 2018 Impact Awards awarded them the prestigious Volunteer Service Gold Status Award presented by the President of the United States. The Southwest Virginia Program is also the recipient of the Heroes Award bestowed by the Red Cross of Virginia, Mountain Empire Chapter.
James aggressively pursued donations from a variety of veteran service organizations – raising over $14,000 to support local program activities. Additionally, he established ongoing relationships with local guide services and individual guides to provide pro bono float trips on the Watauga and South Holston Rivers. Additionally, James arranged access to private fishing waters not only for his Program but for other Virginia Region Programs as well. He also received owners’ permission for PHWFF outings on private sections of the South and North Forks of the Holston River, Laurel Creek, and the Gilmer Cabin and Pond. His program conducted many day fishing outings and James coordinated several overnight outings for the Virginia Region.
Throughout this period, James sought to expose PHWFF to a myriad of community events throughout his area thereby increasing the local support for the program’s activities. His commitment to our Cause inspired all volunteers and participants involved in the program to become a stronger team and to build better friendships. All who know James will attest to the positive impact the program has made on their lives and the role model of selfless devotion, mentoring, and leadership he provided to them. His tireless efforts created a community where our participants can heal.
Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Inc. is proud to bestow upon James Christian the Phil Johnson Exceptional Leadership Award for his tireless and extraordinary service to our organization and to those wounded, ill, and injured servicemen and servicewomen and disabled veterans whom this organization serves.