Fishing experience provides bonding experience for disabled veterans

Minnesota’s Lake of the Woods will host Pay It Forward, a Walleye Master Charity fishing event for disabled veterans of all military branches Aug. 25-Aug. 28.

For the third consecutive summer, Minnesota’s Lake of the Woods will host “Pay It Forward,” a Walleye Master Charity fishing extravaganza that benefits, appreciates and celebrates disabled veterans of all military branches.

This year’s Pay It Forward lasts from Thursday, Aug. 25 through Sunday, Aug. 28.

Kirk Peterson, Wahpeton, is seeking donations to help make it possible for those disabled veterans to enjoy three nights lodging at participating resorts and two days of fishing, guided by Coast Guard-licensed captains in fully equipped charter boats. The veterans’ bus transportation, lodging, fishing and meals are provided, as well as daily and evening entertainment and community events.

“It’s really a neat deal,” Peterson said. “We’ve had Ron Schara from TV’s ‘Minnesota Bound,’ Midwest Outdoors magazine, cover us.”

Local donations, Peterson said, will help Pay It Forward expand its pool of veterans to those in the Twin Towns Area. He’s been in close contact with Executive Director Joe Henry of Lake of the Woods Tourism Bureau.

“What we’ve found out, talking with Joe … he’s met some of the guys later on, after they’ve been fishing. It isn’t just the days of fishing with the other vets. He said a lot of them from the Twin Cities didn’t know these other guys were around. They got together and they’re meeting every day or once a week and they’re having coffee and talking. I think that’s some of the best therapy they can get,” Peterson said.

Peterson may not have experienced what the veterans went through, but as a firefighter of 22 years and an ambulance service provider, he’s seen his own share of death and trauma.

“You really don’t talk about it until somebody else you know goes through something similar,” he said. “The veterans really don’t talk much until they trust you 100 percent or somebody else who’s been there. That’s what’s nice about this. They’re sitting down and visiting with fellow veterans who know what it’s all about. It’s not just that weekend of fishing these guys are getting, it’s therapy the rest of the year. That’s the really nice thing about this program.”

Disability comes in so many forms, Peterson continued.

“Somebody asked me, ‘Well, do we have a lot of disabled vets around here?’” he remembered. “Everybody thinks ‘disabled’ is ‘lost a limb’ or things like that. There’s a lot of them who have these mental issues and I think that’s a lot more of what we see. We don’t know what these people are going through. These guys can talk to each other and that’s what’s so great about this program.”

Pay It Forward’s levels of donation are designed to fit individual and business needs. Community-level donors are those who donate up to $249. For $250-$499, one can be a Bronze-level donor, earning name recognition at Pay It Forward events. For $500-$999, one can be a Silver-level donor, receiving name recognition on Walleye Masters’ website and Pay It Forward Events. And for $1,000 and beyond, Gold-level donors not only have name recognition on Walleye Masters’ website, but are included on the signage at Pay It Forward events and receive access for two to attend Pay It Forward events – lodging and transportation not included.

“We’re hoping to get some corporate sponsorship,” said Peterson, whose bar, Wahpeton’s Firehouse Pub, has been a gold-level member for the last two years. “We will take any donation. If it’s a dollar, we’ll gladly put it toward the program, but we’re hoping to get the bigger sponsors. The first year I was up there, the banner had Coca-Cola, Food Service of America, these big corporate names. And here’s Firehouse Pub and I’m going, ‘I’m out of my league here.’”

To donate, drop off your contribution at the Firehouse Pub or KBMW on Dakota Avenue in Wahpeton, go to www.payitforwardlow.com and click on “Donate Now” or send a check to Walleye Master Charity Events, PO Box 42, Baudette, Minnesota 56623. Walleye Master Charity Events, Inc., is a 501(c)(3) organization, so all donations are completely tax-deductible. Tax forms will be sent to those who write to the above address.

For more information, visit www.payitforwardlow.com or contact Peterson at 701-899-0557.

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