La Plata-based vet­er­ans or­ga­ni­za­tion re­ceives $248,000 grant

Maryland Independent - - News - By TIFFANY WAT­SON twat­son@somd­ Twit­ter: @Tif­fIndyNews

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 to­jectheal­ing­wa­


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.

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