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Union Ironworkers, Former NFL Players Help Get Florida Youths Hooked on Fishing

Spring Hill, Tenn.—Nearly 200 youth and their families turned out for Take Kids Fishing Day at the Suncoast Youth Conservation Center (SYCC) in Apollo Beach, Florida, on April 15. Most of the participants had never fished before.

Hosted by Ironworkers Local 397 and the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA), the free community event aimed to introduce youth to saltwater fishing from the boardwalk and fishing pier constructed by union volunteers at SYCC in 2019.

The wheelchair-accessible structure is the result of a multi-year community service project organized by the USA through its Work Boots on the Ground conservation program. It flanks a restored saltwater pond and marsh adjacent to the SYCC’s 6,000-square-foot education facility.

“We are grateful to the USA for its commitment to supporting youth engagement with the outdoors. The fishing pier they built for us makes a huge difference for visitors, field trip students, and summer campers,” said SYCC Director Candice Wade.

“Florida’s natural resources belong to all of us, and not everyone gets the chance to grow up with access to nature or guidance on how to engage with the outdoors,” she added. “Events like this empower youth and families to enjoy Florida wildlife in a conservation-minded manner. I especially love that participants received fishing gear, so they can continue to apply the skills they learned.”

As youth fished from the boardwalk and along the banks of the marsh, 18 union volunteers from Ironworkers Locals 397 and the NFL Players Association along with USA and SYCC staff assisted them with baiting hooks, casting, reeling, and getting familiar with their new fishing rods and reels, provided by the USA.

“The unions are part of the community, and we are always looking for ways to give back and make a positive impact. We had plenty of volunteers to ensure the kids had a great experience,” said Keven Barber, Ironworkers Local 397 financial secretary-treasurer/business agent, who organized the event. “Between youth events like this and the Multi-craft Core Curriculum (MC3) apprenticeship readiness program we participate in with high schools, we hope to expose youth to the trades, so they consider it as an option when they graduate.”

“At the NFLPA, we look for opportunities for kids to experience activities they don’t normally get a chance to participate in,” said NFLPA Tampa Chapter President Jerry Bell, who volunteered at the event. “It was great to be able to spend time with these kids and show them a few things about fishing. I saw one little girl catch the biggest fish of the day, and it was neat to see how excited she was.”

Throughout the event, SYCC staff also manned four education stations including fish tagging, knot tying, fish measuring, and casting.

The Suncoast event was part of a series of free, community-based Take Kids Fishing Day events, organized through the USA’s Work Boots on the Ground program with support from USA national partners Provost Umphrey Law Firm, Union Plus, and Humana as well as founding partners UIG, ULLICO, Bank of Labor, AFL-CIO Investment Trust Corporation, and Buck Knives.

“The weather for this year’s event was great, and the kids caught more fish—black drum and pinfish—than previous years,” said USA Conservation Coordinator Cody Campbell. “We can’t thank the volunteers from Ironworkers Local 397, the NFLPA, and SYCC enough for donating their time to give participating families a fun and educational experience and spark their interest in fishing.”

Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA)

The USA is a union-dedicated, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose members hunt, fish, shoot and volunteer their skills for conservation. The USA is uniting the union community through conservation to preserve North America’s outdoor heritage. For more information, visit www.unionsportsmen.org or connect on Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and Instagram.

Work Boots on the Ground (WBG)

WBG is the USA’s flagship conservation program that brings together union members willing to volunteer their time and expertise to conservation projects that improve and enhance public access to the outdoors, conserve wildlife habitat, restore America’s parks and mentor youth in the outdoors. The USA’s Work Boots on the Ground program works closely with federal, state and local agencies and other conservation groups to provide manpower needed to complete critical projects that may otherwise go undone.

Suncoast Youth Conservation Center (SYCC)

SYCC is the educational hub of the Florida Conservation and Technology Center’s Center for Conservation, located in Apollo Beach, FL.. Situated on a 20-acre campus with 6,000 feet of indoor and outdoor teaching space, SYCC offers field trips, summer camps, and other youth programming aimed at getting young people outdoors. SYCC is a part of the Florida’s Youth Conservation Center Network (FYCCN), an office within the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission which aims to uphold Florida’s outdoor heritage by educating and empowering Florida’s youth and educators with outdoor know-how and conservation concepts. Learn more about SYCC summer camps.

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