On the first Saturday of May, 2003, Grand Gobblers Chapter of NWTF held its first ever JAKES Event. We began small with 20 or so stations and 30-40 volunteers. Armed with naïve enthusiasm and a weather forecast for partly sunny skies and temperatures in the 60s, we anticipated spending a fun-filled day outdoors with a small group of area youth. We awoke that morning to a steady downpour of rain and temperatures in the 40s. The weatherman kept predicting an early end to the rain and warming temperatures and people began showing up dressed accordingly.
Soon we had upwards of 80 kids and their parents dressed in spring-like clothing wading from station to station in a field that quickly became a huge mud bog. The intensity of rain varied from a drizzle to a downpour but never let up for the duration of the event and the temperatures never made it out of the low 50s. Parents, volunteers, and youth were all soon soaked to the bone, muddy and cold, yet hardly anyone left.
When lunch was served, kids were observed taking the wieners from their hotdogs and using them as hand warmers so they could keep shooting. Hands shaking, lips blue, water dripping in their faces, they begged their cold wet parents to “stay a little longer,” to “shoot one more time,” and to “visit one more station.”
On that cold rainy day, observing the unbridled hunger of those kids for some kind of outdoor experience, our mission for the future began to take shape. Though our event has grown and evolved each year since 2003, our core mission has remained the same:
- Encourage youth to be active outdoors.
- Make our event accessible to as many youth as possible.
- Have appropriate activities for as many age groups as possible.
- Encourage good outdoor ethics and environmental stewardship.
- Provide these activities with quality instruction from enthusiastic volunteers in the safest manner possible.
- Always hold our event free of charge.
Our event has grown from 80 participants to 800 in 8 years. It has become a very complex event requiring thousands of dollars and thousands of combined hours of volunteer labor. However, once you have had a day filled with watching kids’ faces as they catch their first fish, hit their first target with a bow or a gun, or discover that they are good at something they didn’t even know existed, I think you will want to be a part of that experience each year. So, if seeing a young person’s face light up with an ear to ear grin warms your heart, bring your kids or someone else’s and join us this May for a day you and they will never forget. If you want to be a part of creating those grins, we always need more volunteers.