Nowhere else on the face of the earth do we have a country like the United States of America.
Likewise, nowhere else do we have a place where our sportsmen — the men and women and boys and girls who hunt and fish — love the outdoors in our heart and always, always, step up to do what is needed when the time comes.
We put our money, brains and brawn into making conservation endeavors of our natural resources successful. We do whatever it takes, and we do it for as long as it takes. The same people who sit in cold duck blinds and deer stands and bake on a float fishing trip are the ones we can count on to help when the time comes for fish and wildlife conservation.
But there is something else.
These same people, the salt of the earth who are the backbone of our heritage of hunting and fishing, also want to share what we have in the woods and streams of this country and their love for it. They want to take along those who would love to do these things — to hunt for deer, ducks and turkeys, and to fish for bass, catfish, salmon and trout. They want to share the sunrise, hear a turkey gobble, float down a wild river and watch wide-eyed as a craggy old buck walks out of the woods. They want to do this with those who are served by groups such as the United Special Sportsman Alliance.
I have always been proud of our nation's sportsmen, hunters and fishermen when it comes time to step up and do the right thing. Recently I spoke with Brigid O'Donoghue, the founder and CEO of USSA, a group that makes hunting and fishing and other outdoor experiences possible for thousands of young people with life-threatening diseases and disabilities, as well as wounded military veterans.
Here's what she told me about USSA's mission and goals:
"The United Special Sportsman Alliance, Inc. is a nonprofit 'dream-wish' granting charity that specializes in sending children and veterans with life-threatening illnesses and disabilities on the outdoor adventure of their dreams! Announcements in the medical community are full of unexplained, miraculous remissions and recoveries of patients that remain upbeat and hopeful in their battle with a disease. Science continues to marvel at the unexplained 'healing' phenomena we call the power of prayer. A 'holistic approach,' where a patient's 'mind and outlook' is treated as well as their disease, is gaining acceptance nationwide.
"USSA adventures give patients something to look forward to and help sustain them in their time of need! Families are whisked away from the mundane, manmade world of hospitals and medical bills by giving them a place of peace to focus on the quality of life and family ties. We hope to help empower all Americans to pursue their lifelong dream of an outdoor adventure.
"The year 2022 was highly successful for the USSA, with a significant increase in the number of wishes fulfilled. The year 2023 has had a promising start, marked by an increase in the number of turkey hunters compared to the previous year. We held their inaugural group turkey hunt in Tennessee, where nine kids enjoyed their first turkey hunt. Last year's catfishing event in South Carolina had 21 captains and families, while this year's event had 29. The deep sea fishing event had 34 boats participating last year, and 40 captains and their families signed up for the event scheduled for next month.
"The increase in volunteers and donors who showed their devotion by providing hunting and fishing trips for children and veterans nationwide makes the charity continue to grow. Their vision is to get children and veterans out into the great outdoors to enjoy a sport that they all love and pass on the tradition."
I have been on several hunts sponsored by USSA. It is always a unique experience. Every time I am reminded I am seeing the wonder of the hunt and all we are exposed to in the outdoors through the eyes of someone who has not been here before (and may never be here again) and is so grateful that they are having this experience, they just can't stop telling you.
I am humbled beyond telling every time. From a child with special needs or a life-threatening illness to the veteran who was wounded and is dealing with problems I can't even fathom, we find common ground and revel in the joy and peace of a day in God's great outdoors.
How about it? Would you like to make a child's or a military veteran's dream hunt or fishing trip come true? USSA sponsors events all over the United States — hunting, fishing, boating and other outdoors dream trips. Visit childswish.org to learn more or call (715) 884-2256 to speak with O'Donoghue; you will never meet another person involved in a service organization as dedicated as her.
You can get involved as a volunteer, help set up an event in your area, or maybe you just want to donate to help USSA make some dreams come true.
"Guns & Cornbread" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at [email protected].