In Honor of Veteran’s Day…..A TRIBUTE TO PROJECT HEALING WATERS by Pamela Moran, Recreation Therapist, Newington Veteran’s Hospital

“I am so grateful for all of the Project Healing Waters volunteers”.  This comment from one of the Veterans participating in the PHW program at the Newington VA is a sincere message conveying the sentiments of many.  The volunteers have partnered with the Veterans to form a wonderful alliance.   PHW members exhibit professionalism and provide camaraderie through their interactions.  They are teachers to the Veterans as well as mentors, buddies and teammates.

As a group, the Vets have been able to learn to tie flies, cast with a fly rod and understand the many elements to fly fishing.  Most of them have not been fly fishing and were not aware of the techniques of casting.  The PHW volunteers have taken the Vets under their wings to spend time in the ‘classroom’ as well as on the river and by the pond to work together in order to instill a knowledge and appreciation for the sport.  There have been a few who expressed, for one reason or another, that they did not think they could tie a fly.  However, when connected to a volunteer he/she ended up quite surprised and proudly held up that ‘first fly’ for all to view.

Jim Iannone, Program Leader for the PHW program that functions out of the Newington, CT VA writes:  “Since July 2012 the volunteers from the Farmington Valley and Candlewood Lake chapters of  Trout Unlimited have enjoyed ‘serving those that have served’ through the PHWFF program.  We particularly enjoy their reactions to tying their first fly and catching that ‘first fish’ on a fly that they have tied during our sessions.  I am pleased with the success of the program and glad I stepped up as Program Leader to get the program started.  It has been very rewarding to me and the volunteers from our chapters.”

Jim has organized a wonderful network of fly fishing enthusiasts who connect very well with the Veterans in the program.   The enthusiastic group with PHW have been very dedicated to the cause, coming in to the VA on a monthly basis to tie or meeting on the water to help Vets put into play the skills they have been working on together.

Project Healing Waters volunteers with the Newington program are also VA volunteers – they promote good will and positive experiences with their efforts.  Voluntary Service Assistant Chief Joe Canzanella worked with the processing of applications, etc to facilitate the volunteers to function within the VA system.  Joe is also a very active supporter of the program, including driving Veterans to the various locations that are used to exercise their skills.

A Veteran participant, David, wrote:

“This program has many different aspects:   First, there is the fly tying.  While there are accepted patterns of flies one can experiment with their own ideas.  One has to have a certain adeptness in order to be able to construct a fly as well as patience.  Members of the organization are there to answer questions, make suggestions, as well as encouragement.

The real proof in the pudding comes when one is able to see if their product works – does it catch fish?  But who knows, perhaps the water is cloudy, the sun is out, too hot, too cold, or there is a different hatch.  Your fly may work on a different day, or even a different fish!

But what could be better than to be out on a spring or summer day. The sun is warm, there are a few bugs, listening to water as it murmurs along the stream’s bank or chuckling as it flows over the rocks with birds singing in the trees.  What a bonus, if the fly that you tied brings in a fish!”

Another Veteran who has been enjoying the program reflected when asked if she would like to contribute any thoughts: “It helped me to realize I’m a fisherman of men.”  Not only has PHW provided the first opportunity for her to participate in fly fishing, the experience allowed her to catch a fish on her first outing.

Many Veterans have become ‘hooked’ on the program—what a wonderful thing!  And a blessing that the PHW program continues year-round.  This provides the opportunity for the Vets to remain involved throughout the cold and wintry, ‘will spring ever arrive’ weeks.  More reason to keep tying in order to get those flies ready for when it’s finally time to get back out on the water.

Here are some more messages that the Veterans would like to relate about their experience:

“Thanks to Project Healing Waters I got to experience the thrill of catching my first fish”.

“I had never had the opportunity to try fly fishing.  Thanks to the Project Healing Waters volunteers I now have a new hobby”.

“Thanks to Project Healing Waters for all of the outings.  Also for teaching us how to tie dry and wet flies”.

“Fresh air, sunshine and fishing.  What a wonderful combination”.

“Awesome fishing and the volunteers are excellent with assisting.  It is very relaxing to get close to nature and appreciate the resources.  It’s been 20 years since I fly fished – it’s great to get back to it”.

“It’s a great program.  I had a wonderful day.  Fly fishing is lots of fun and I learn something new every time”.

“The Project Healing Waters volunteers are tremendous – very nice, great people”.

Thank you Project Healing Waters for all you have been doing to enrich the lives of many.

The Veterans and staff of the Newington VA truly appreciate your efforts, encouragement, enthusiasm and commitment to this art and those you have touched with your mission.