Fishing program cheerfully hooks disabled

By Jo-an Holstein
Special for The Republic
Oct. 18, 2002

When a non-profit organization called Fishing Has No Boundaries surfaced in the East Valley, 8-year-old J.D. Green of Gilbert, who has cerebral palsy, got the chance to fish off a boat.

"He's very excited," said his mother, Della, as J.D. hooked his first of six fish from a pontoon boat at a lake in Dobson Ranch. According to his father, Jim, J.D. had fished before at nearby water preserves.

"That's what unique about us. Most fishing programs out there are shoreline. But it's not the same. It's a whole different thing when you're out on the water," said David Helfand of Mesa, chairman of Fishing Has No Boundaries' Arizona chapter.

The organization enables people with any type of disability to "go beyond what their perceived boundaries are and realize there are no boundaries to the fun you can have or your achievement ability," Helfand said.

An independent personal care provider who works with the disabled, Helfand co-founded the chapter nearly seven years ago with Tempe resident Don Price, a disabled man and longtime angler. One of about 14 chapters across the country, the Arizona chapter has a yearly catch-and-release fishing event at Lake Pleasant. The sixth annual event is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday.

Many who came to the first event have come to all five, Helfand said. The event attracted 50 disabled participants last year, along with their guests and family members. Fishing Has No Boundaries and its volunteers provide the equipment, including the use of nearly two dozen pontoon boats and specialized ramps.

Members of the National Guard assist with loading and unloading equipment and participants. Because of the nature of the event, fishing licenses are not required by the Arizona Game & Fish Department.

In addition to its annual Lake Pleasant event, Fishing Has No Boundaries has a free outreach program, offering disabled people individual outings that are tailored to their needs. "We've had them as young as 3 out on the boat with family members as well as fellows in their late 70s," Helfand said. The Arizona chapter also has assisted city and nursing home recreation groups with fishing trips.

With J.D.'s maiden excursion, Helfand hopes to expose East Valley residents to the Fishing Has No Boundaries program, which used to be available only at Lake Pleasant.

"Lake Pleasant is an hour away, so this is a good opportunity," he said.
Not worried about the potential need for help, Helfand said getting volunteers is only a matter of spreading the word. "You can't have more fun than fishing with kids," he said.

Local organizations also have responded enthusiastically to Fishing Has No Boundaries, he added.