The buzz of energy was high at Lake Granbury on April 29, as local Granbury ISD students prepared for the fourth annual C.A.S.T. for Kids event in Hood County.
As STEAM Academy at Mambrino students exited each bus and made their way to the dock at DeCordova Bend Park on Friday morning, the excitement was palpable as smiles appeared in eager anticipation of what the day would bring.
Created for ages six to 18, the C.A.S.T. for Kids event is designed to provide an opportunity for children with special needs to enjoy a quality outdoor recreational experience through the sport of fishing.
The event was created and organized by the C.A.S.T. for Kids Foundation — a public charity formed in 1991.
“The foundation has been around for 32 years, but this is the fourth year (for Hood County),” said Jim Behnken, regional director of the C.A.S.T. for Kids Foundation.
C.A.S.T. stands for Catch A Special Thrill and spreads a positive message that kids with disabilities can accomplish anything.
"It just started out because one of the Mambrino special needs teachers came to an event we had and was like, ‘We got to do this for our kids,’” Behnken said.
The event is presented by Texas Farm Bureau Insurance and for the past few years, the business has limited participation to only 40 children — until now.
“This will be the largest event in our 32-year history," Behnken said.
A total of 73 special needs students visited Lake Granbury for an afternoon of fun and fishing, complete with their lifejacket, T-shirt, hat, fishing pole, and tackle box that were generously provided by local sponsors.
“It's a little bit about the fishing, but it's a lot about the children being around the cream of the crop — people from this community,” Behnken said. “I mean, people that took off work on a Friday brought their boat out here and blessed them for a couple hours. In this world, you give blessings, and you receive them back and I promise you, these boaters will come in and their hearts will be touched. They'll have a great time giving a kid an opportunity to do something he never would have been able to do, so it's really special.”
Behnken said that each special needs student was accompanied by a fifth grade Mambrino student who served as a chaperone.
“They came off the bus and they held hands all the way down here till we got them on a boat,” he said. “No child goes into a boat without a parent or guardian. At the school, they signed permission slips when we had registration, so everybody's covered.”
Local volunteers spent the day educating students on how to properly cast, reel, and bait the hook.
Of course, not every child was interested in fishing.
“We had a boat captain meeting earlier and I told them, ‘You got one job, keep them smiling,'” Behnken said. “If they want to go for a boat ride, you go for a boat ride. If they want to stop and fish, you stop and fish. If they want to help you steer the boat, let's do that. They're the boss today. Whatever it takes — bringing joy, that’s what we do.”
Behnken — who has been involved with the foundation for 22 years — said he has never seen a community come together for this event like Granbury.
“It's just the people — that is what makes the event so special,” he said. “Nobody's getting paid. They're here because they’re great people in this community. I'm 62 years old, but today, I'm 10 years old again and I love it. It keeps you young.”
After a few hours of fishing and lunch, each child received a personalized plaque that included a photo of them in the boat.
“Our real goal in the foundation is maybe they'll start pestering their parents to say, ‘Can we go to the pond?’’ Behnken added. “Nothing beats family time and the outdoors. Hopefully a few of these kids, we'll see them on the shoreline here next week or on their local pond with their mom and dad having a little picnic lunch. Family togetherness — that's what we're after, so that's the main goal. It's life-changing; it’s just great.”
For more information about C.A.S.T. for Kids, visit castforkids.org online.