Outdoor Friends Forever gives children with disabilities chance to huntPublished 12:24pm Wednesday, December 5, 2012
By Griffin Pritchard, Staff Writer
Jim Hardy has always looked out for those with special needs. Dating back to his days as a counselor at Lake Martin’s Camp ASCCA, Hardy wanted to make sure everyone had the opportunity to experience the outdoors.
“I worked with special needs kids for years before my injury,” said Hardy, who in 2010 founded Outdoor Friends Forever. “Seeing the way these kids benefited from being in the outdoors was the benefit for me.”
Hardy was severely injured in 2000 after a fall from a treestand sent him crashing 20 feet to the Alabama ground. A spinal cord injury has left him confined to a wheelchair, but he doesn’t let that slow him down as he is working his way through the Bassmaster Opens with the goal of fishing on the Elite Series.
The Alexander City native, and now Lake Jordan resident, formed the nonprofit Outdoor Friends Forever in 2010.
“We have a lot of children who, because of their limitations, haven’t been exposed to the outdoors,” said Hardy. “Kids that thought they can’t go hunt. But, now kids have killed three or four deer and they come back year after year.”
O.F.F is a familiy-oriented organization that hosts both hunts and fishing weekends throughout the year.
Hunts are scheduled for this weekend and again in January.
“We had 54 kids come to our event in May,” said Hardy. “We are a true 100 percent nonprofit group. This is done for the kids and for their families.”
The December hunt is scheduled for this weekend with a kickoff banquet scheduled for Friday night in Alexander City.
“I’m some ways I’m surprised with the response that I’ve gotten,” said Hardy. “Some of the kids are kind of hesitant to come out. A lot of them have never been able to hold a gun or hold a fishing rod. But once you’ve shown them they are able to, you’ve opened up a window to children with disabilities. This is a whole new world to them.”
With Hardy already having years of experience of working with children with disabilities in the outdoors, once O.F.F. was launched, he was able to move forward quickly.
“I can remember just starting and having to address the little things like gun safety (and) getting the wheelchairs in the woods,” said Hardy. “Sitting back and looking and thinking: Is this one going to fall? Is this one a seizure risk? Just the little medical things like that. And then you ran into insurance issues if the child left Camp ASCCA.”
Landowners in Tallapoosa, Coosa and Elmore counties have donated land for the Dec.7 – 9 event with the banquet being held at the Holman’s Lodge in Alexander City.
“The hunt is exclusively for children with disabilities, aged 8-21,” said Hardy. “It’s 100 percent accessible for them. They learn what a gun is and learn about deer hunting. They go to a range and shoot, and, if they feel comfortable, then they’ll be the ones pulling the trigger on the hunt. I have trained professional guides going on the hunts. If the kid doesn’t feel comfortable with a gun, he can have the guide shoot the deer. I’ve seen kids get just as excited from that too, being able to tell the guide when to pull the trigger.”
Along with the hunting experience and the meal the night before, the participants will receive some quality swag.
“They are getting $300-$400 of outdoor items for free,” said Hardy. “Anything under the sun that a real hunter would want.
In the past, Hardy has had children come from Georgia, Mississippi and throughout the Southeast. But his goal is to turn Outdoor Friends Forever into a national organization.
“I got a call yesterday from a dad in Sylacauga who’d never heard of us,” said Hardy. “I’m looking to grow my reach so that a disabled child in Texas would know about us and what we are doing.”
For additional information about Outdoor Friends Forever, visit them online at www.outdoorfriendsforever.org or contact Hardy at 334-233-5399.
Griffin Pritchard is the sports editor for The Wetumpka Herald.