Joe Holm, of Willmar, Let’s Go Fishing director and founder of the organization back in 2002, said there are some changes going on with the organization, and he’s excited about them.
“Change is tough, but change is necessary in the day and age we live in. It doesn’t matter what occupation, who you are, or what chapter in your life it is, but Let’s Go Fishing is really going through one of those change stages right now,” said Holm.
There are a lot of changes going on, Holm said. This past June they moved the home office to the old fire hall in Spicer. They have a new chairman of the board, new board members and some additional board members. “We’ve got chapter presidents that have a real pulse beat around the state that have a real passion for the seniors…it’s a real cross-section of individuals that all have one common theme and that is a heart for our active, older adults.
The second change that will be coming down the pike is that Holm, who has been executive director for 13 years, is stepping away from that position. “I’ll still play a real active role with Let’s Go Fishing. My heart is here, my passion, all of my energies. I think of Let’s Go Fishing every hour of every day.” Holm said he’s been the face and voice of Let’s Go Fishing, and he wants to give somebody else an opportunity. “I want to get out and help communities. I would rather roll up my sleeves and go help something get accomplished.”
The third change is going from 25,000 to 100,000 people per year. “We’re just taking a step back and rebuilding the foundation of Let’s Go Fishing, from the board to myself to working with the chapters.”
The new director will take over when the timing is right, Holm said. “I want to find an individual that has a real heart, a real passion for our seniors. We want to grow this organization so it’s around and serving people way longer than I am on this earth or somebody else.”
All their volunteers, which is about 2,300, have to go through training in Minnesota to be a Let’s Go Fishing volunteer. “It’s the volunteers that really make this special. That’s where the rubber hits the road. You know the cream rises to the top, and the volunteers with Let’s Go Fishing are the cream of the crop, and they have a real heart for our seniors, and I appreciate them so much.”
The home office is there to give support to the chapters, and as part of the change that’s going on, they’re trying to get more support to serve 2,300 people. They’ve increased the office staff from basically 1-1/2 people to 3-1/2. “We’re in the process of rebuilding the support system so we can better support the chapters as well. That’s really critical. The home office needs the chapters; the chapters need the home office. I’ve always said the biggest strength of Let’s Go Fishing is all the volunteers.”
They have a board-approved big plan going right now for growth and expansion, a plan unanimously approved by the Let’s Go Fishing board where they’re aiming to serve nearly three times the number of persons by the year 2020 and more than doubling the number of chapters. Sixteen new chapters, including Mankato, will be added in Minnesota, 31 new chapters beyond Minnesota will be added. “Even these ambitious increases will hardly keep pace with the growing need and demand, particularly among aging and increasing diverse youth population for the Let’s Go Fishing experience.”
Holm said what charges his battery is to see what Let’s Go Fishing does for people’s lives. “There is so much good that it does that I never would have guessed it. It’s been the toughest thing that I could do to try to communicate to somebody how this program is affecting people’s lives.” Just ask anyone who lives on a lake what the view of the water does for them, he said. “I guarantee you that lowering their blood pressure will be one of them.”
Even the Mayo Clinic has been keeping its eye on the organization. Holm said the Mayo Clinic gave him a call not too long ago and said they’ve been watching this program closely for the last three years. They told him they have not seen another program that helps people as effectively as Let’s Go Fishing does, that it’s one of the best therapeutic activities they have ever seen.
Since Let’s Go Fishing started, they’ve reached over 130,000 people, and this year alone it’s over 20,000 so far. “To hear the stories, the impact, that’s what it’s about. It’s about the people.” The main focus is to impact people, he said, and the older he gets, the more he wants to impact people.
This program always has been and always will be about the seniors, he said, and in his mind, they’re a key part of reaching our next generation. “We have got a lot of seniors that are senior veterans, and they can relate to a lot of these young people coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan. They’re hurting. The family is hurting, and how do you connect to them? This whole point of how you connect people – the water, the pontoons – that’s what this program is – it’s pulling up beside people showing honor, respect and appreciation, it’s making one’s life more fulfilling, happier, and it’s setting the right example for our next generation.”
Let’s Go Fishing is fulfilling the mission, is meeting the needs, Holm said, and they believe there is a day when they will be impacting seniors all across the United States. “Some catch fish while they’re out there, and it doesn’t matter what size. It’s a thrill. Any tug is a good tug. The fresh air is stimulating. The sunshine, it’s great. We’ve got a medical doctor talking about the health benefits of going out with Let’s Go Fishing and that’s one of the things that attracted the Mayo Clinic.”
There are many testimonials. One participant said she really enjoyed the trip and considered it a final joy in her life. Another said it was so beautiful out on the water, and it reminded her of home. The oldest person they’ve had on the water was 107, and he wore a fishing hat that said “I may be over 100 but boy can I fish.” His hat, to this day, is in the Minnesota Fishing Museum. Holm said one person in tears told them “I was going to take my life if it wasn’t for Let’s Go Fishing.”
The staff at Let’s Go Fishing includes Jane Drodofsky, of Spicer, development director; Jeff Johnson, of Spicer, development; Darci Mohr, of Willmar, operations director; and Holm. They even have a mascot in the office named Parker, who is the welcoming committee, greeting everyone at the door with a wagging tail and smiling face. “We’ve got a better team now then we’ve ever had in the history of Let’s Go Fishing. We’ve got a better board than we’ve ever had and better staffing.”
The more resources that can be raised the more they can build the mission, Holm said. “We did not start a chapter last year, which was probably the first time that’s ever been done, and right now we have a six-year plan going forward. We’re restructuring right now. We want to get the foundation solid again, be able to implement and start to impact 100,000 people per year.”
Chapters in Minnesota are in Alexandria, Belgrade, Bemidji, Big Stone Lake, Brainerd, Buffalo, Chaska, Detroit Lakes, Eden Prairie, Fairmont, Hastings, Headwaters Area, Itasca, Lake Shetek, Lakes Area, Little Falls, Montevideo, North Branch, Ottertail County, Paynesville, Pope County, Sleepy Eye, St. Croix Valley, Watonwan County, White Bear, Willmar and Winona.
“With people’s help, if individuals will pull beside Let’s Go Fishing, I’m totally convinced that with the seniors, youth and veterans we can impact hundreds of thousands of people in a positive way.”