Jessica Bovy, 6, an autistic child enrolled in Fort Belvoir’s Exceptional Family Member Program, loves the water.
Before the Catch A Special Trill fishing tournament for special needs kids Saturday along the Potomac River, Jessica had never been fishing.
“If you could see the gleam in her eyes when she caught the fish - she was so excited,” said her mother Gail Bovy, a Navy captain serving at the Pentagon, who watched Jessica catch a bass.
Of everything the Bovys enjoyed, along with nine other Fort Belvoir families with EFMP-enrolled children at the event, one thing stood out: children with conditions such as Down Syndrome, autism, or spina bifida don’t always have the chance to do something so fun.
“It’s especially therapeutic for the children to have the opportunity to go out and do something they don’t normally get to do. It’s unique,” Bovy said.
The event began as the 40 children who attended boarded small fishing boats, with a parent and captain aboard for guidance.
The captains, all volunteers, piloted the boats onto the river and helped children prepare lines, cast and reel in fish. Jessica Bovy was on board with Skipper Bill, who let her steer the boat for a few moments.
“Without them [captains], I don’t think the kids would be as successful at catching the fish. It’s a great opportunity for those families who don’t have fishing capabilities,” Bovy said.
With a captain’s help, Kenny and Michael Kercado of Fort Belvoir, whose father, Staff Sgt. Ken Kercado works at Walter Reed, were quite successful during the three hours provided for kids to fish.
“They both caught six fish that we brought back, eight total, but we let two go,” said their mother, Beatriz Kercado.
“I caught a catfish and they got bigger,” said Michael Kercado, 5, who caught several catfish, each larger than the last.
CAST for Kids, which hosts several dozen fishing events every year in different regions of the country, was first brought to Northern Virginia last year by Department of Homeland Security management program analyst Ron Sickler.
“I contacted CAST for Kids two years ago, and asked if they wanted me to do one out here in Virginia,” Sickler said.
Sickler served as head volunteer coordinator Saturday, but is retiring and hopes to find someone to fill his shoes for future events.
Soldiers from the 249th Engineer’s Battalion of Fort Belvoir volunteered at the event, along with a number of civic and medical organizations, from Parents of Autistic Children of Northern Virginia to the Boy Scouts.
Russ Walker and his son, C.J., from Herndon, volunteered at Saturday’s event through their local Boy Scout Troop 1577.
“We’re just here to help out. We helped direct traffic; it was sort of fun,” C.J. said.
Others volunteered directly through CAST, including Joanne Rinaldi of Manassas and her sister Mary Jocz of Clifton, who helped with loading boats, hosting craft booths and serving food donated by Olive Garden.
“It was a very rewarding experience. We’re returning volunteers from last year,” Rinaldi said.
Gabriel Ross, 3, also from Fort Belvoir, is an enthusiastic young boy, even when receiving treatment for diabetes and hypothyroidism, with which he was diagnosed at 18 months old, according to his mother Jana Ross. Gabriel brought his never-changing spunk on a boat Saturday with his father, Army Sgt. Eric Ross.
“He’s always happy and cheerful, and sticks his finger out at the doctor to tell which arm is the right one. He plays with the stethoscope and the instruments they use for fingers and eyes,” said Mrs. Ross. “He has an insulin pump and he’ll explain it to all the kids and their parents, and anyone who will listen.”