La Plata-based veterans organization receives $248,000 grant
Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing provides more than fishing trips
Veterans around the nation are using fly fishing as a rehabilitative activity, and the programs at Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF) prove that veterans can heal through various forms of human interaction.
On Sept. 13, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald announced the awarding of Grants for Adaptive Sports Programs for disabled veterans and disabled service members of the Armed Forces. Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing was selected as a $248,000 grant recipient to fund ongoing programs and activities, fly fishing outings and volunteer training.
“We are honored to partner with so many organizations across the country to provide adaptive sports programs where our veterans live,” McDonald said in a press release. “Adaptive sports gives freedom to those who have fought for our freedom, and empowers veterans to believe in themselves and to let go of what others may see as limitations.”
“We are extremely excited to receive the grant because it’s definitely going to help us accomplish more,” said Todd Desgrosseilliers, CEO of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing. “We hope to receive more participants into the PHWFF programs, connect with more veterans, expand the programs and deliver the programs to more people.”
Located in La Plata, Project Healing Waters will use this grant to continue providing their top-tier therapeutic program to injured and disabled veterans at more than 200 programs located across the United States. As of 2015, 3,516 program volunteers served more than 7,000 injured and disabled veterans by dedicating more than 200,000 hours of service by offering 3,460 fly tying classes, 944 rod building classes, 1,082 casting classes and 1,316 fishing outings.
Organization volunteers are teaching classes on an ongoing, longterm basis; it is not a one-time fishing trip. The program also provides clinics for participants ranging from beginners who have never fished before to those with prior fly fishing and tying experience, who are adapting their skills to their new abilities.
Desgrosseilliers, the new CEO of Project Healing Waters, is a Marine Corps veteran and infantry officer with 31 years of service under his belt. He said it’s very important for veterans to have that connection with other veterans — similar to the bonds they formed while serving in the military. His personal decorations include the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Meritorious Service Medal, the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal and the Combat Action Ribbon. Before he was hired at the organization, he was an 18-month program participant while going through physical therapy for his own traumatic brain injury.
“I participated in the program in Quantico and Fort Belvoir PHWFF programs and have seen firsthand the transformation that the program can have on veterans and it’s profound,” Desgrosseilliers said. “It’s not just fishing trips; it’s a weekly meeting, engaging with participants and leadership there who really care, along with fly fishing teaching, so that they are out doing something at a peaceful stream where they can relax themselves. The program helped me to provide an emotional connection with others during and after my rehabilitation.”
The organization has found that having many disabled veterans out on the water is beneficial to the healing process.
“We are unique for a veteran service organization,” said Megan Pierce, PHWFF chief program and administrative officer. “We have been working with the Veterans Administration for many years and we have been referrals from the VA for in-patients and outpatients across the country.”
Pierce said fly fishing allows disabled veterans and disabled active military personnel to build relationships with one another, and build camaraderie in the veteran community. Services are provided at no cost to participants.
“I feel that we just can’t do enough for veterans who have served and military who continue to serve,” Pierce said. “This is just our way to give back to veterans and to be able to help them throughout their healing. We have many participants who have said that without this program they wouldn’t be here today. We know we are saving lives, we know it’s making a difference, so it’s just an alternative.”
For more information about Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, go to www.projecthealingwaters.org.
Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing volunteer Ed Jaworowski, left, and veteran participant Tech. Sgt. Chris Frost on a fishing trip provided by the organization.
Project Healing Water Fly Fishing veteran participant, Sgt. (ret.) J.R Salzman U.S. Army National Guard, who served in Iraq, on a fishing trip with one of the programs in Long Island.