FAIRMONT - How far can $6,000 go?
When that's your annual budget, the answer is pretty darn far.
Shelly Abitz of Gemini Studio in Fairmont entered a national video contest with Gold'n Plump chicken. Featuring the local Let's Go Fishing chapter, a fish narrates the two-minute piece and interviews the organization's president, Steve Schmitz.
Placing second, the video was awarded $5,000. Gold'n Plump posted the winning submissions on YouTube, and Abitz's video also can be viewed with the online version of this article at www.fairmontsentinel.com
As the video's nominee, Schmitz also received a cash prize, which he gave to Let's Go Fishing. Coincidentally, the $6,000 that came from the contest is about what it costs to run the program each year.
"Normally, our funding comes from donations and contributions from the public, so we won't have to push as hard for help next year," Schmitz said. "This just helps us to get ahead as a nonprofit organization."
During the summer, three days a week, groups of senior citizens can be seen on the program's pontoon, either fishing or just enjoying a scenic tour of Fairmont's lakes.
In the three years since the local chapter of Let's Go Fishing was formed, more than 1,400 senior citizens in the Martin County area have enjoyed rides on the pontoon. In 2010 alone, 61 volunteers put in nearly 700 hours.
Senior citizens are charged nothing for the boat trips, but there is a cost to provide these services.
"Insurance is the biggie," Schmitz said.
But fishing supplies aren't cheap either. Tackle, fishing poles and bait, in particular, can get expensive. Then there's general maintenance and repairs on the pontoon, advertising to promote the program, uniforms, cleaning services for the boat, storage in the winter, uniforms for volunteers, gas, drinking water ...
"There's quite a wide variety of things we have to pay for," Schmitz said. "That's where it gets up to about $6,000 to $7,000 a year pretty fast."
The Gold'n Plump prize money is also helpful as the Let's Go Fishing's board of directors anticipates a potentially significant increase in transportation costs. This increase won't be for the pontoon, but rather to get senior citizens to the dock.
"It's getting hard for health care facilities," Schmitz said. "... We feel in the future we're going to have to have a little bit of cushion to help these facilities or help pay for a bus to go get people and bring them back. Otherwise (seniors) are not going to have that chance.
Extending services this way will require extra money for insurance too, but the organization believes the end result is worth the effort.
"We're not looking at just today," Schmitz said. "We're looking at the future and want to be able to take more and more people out."
The goal of Let's Go Fishing is big and deep: to enrich the lives of people age 55 and older through free fishing and boating excursions that strengthen communities, build relationships and create memories. And something as simple as a boat ride is capable of all that, which is why volunteers and participants are so passionate about the program.
"The biggest thrill is to get somebody on water who never thought they would go out again, and just to see the smile on their faces is all the reward you need," Schmitz said.
He recalled one 92-year-old woman who had lived in Fairmont her entire life but never had the chance to go out on Fairmont's lakes:?"Let's Go Fishing did that for her."
For others, the boat rides bring back memories of times spent on the lakes.
"They do tell some stories," Schmitz said.
To encourage seniors to enjoy this aspect of the program, the organization gathered information from Martin County Historical Society about what the lakes were like years ago.
"So we're able to tell them some stories, which gets them started and that's really cool," Schmitz said.
Seniors who want more information on signing up for the program can call (507) 848-5069.
"We want the seniors to call this," Schmitz said. "One of the things we're doing next year that we think will take us up another level is we're looking for group leaders. Seniors can be a group leader and ... invite friends and family and have their own party."