Last Saturday, more than 30 children in foster care and their families participated in the first “Fostering Outdoor Oklahoma Families” event. This collaborative partnership between Oklahoma Human Services (OKDHS), Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC), State Sen. Paul Rosino, Oklahoma City Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 123 (OKCFOP), International Association of Firefighters Local 157 (OKCFF) and the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Foundation (OWCF) brought families and children together with first responders and Wildlife Department staff to enjoy an evening of fun, food and fishing.
The participating children in foster care received a new rod-reel-tackle combo purchased by OKCFF, OKCFOP and OWCF to use at the event and take home. The Foundation also gave fishing licenses to foster parents wanting to continue their families’ fishing adventures after the event.
Through the great national pastime of fishing, kids get to build confidence, social and emotional skills, communication and an appreciation for nature while getting them away from technology for a while. Fishing also allows families to build closer relationships by enjoying the activity together. And catching fish is just a lot of fun!
"Watching our kids and families interact with local police, firefighters and ODWC staff while reeling in fish after fish was so heartwarming," said OKDHS Director Justin Brown, who is also the state's Secretary of Human Services and Early Childhood Initiatives. "Events like this demonstrate the positive changes happening within communities across the state thanks to these critical state and local partnerships. We are making joint responses that bring hope to Oklahoma’s children and families."
ODWC Director J.D. Strong said, "One of the highlights of my career was kicking off this new partnership with OKDHS. There's nothing more rewarding in life than sharing the joys of fishing with those who need more joy in their lives. This event was the launch of what we hope to spread statewide — teaching kids in foster care and their families how to reap the many rewards of getting outdoors to fish. We were truly blessed by the end of the evening."
OKCFF President Cameron Weems said, "As firefighters, we see daily the importance of the family situation in childrens' lives. The importance of fostering healthy relationships is vital, now more than ever. We are grateful for the opportunity to join with the OKDHS, ODWC, OWCF, Senator Paul Rosino, and the OKC Police Local 123 to play a part in helping foster parents enrich the bond they are creating with these kids. The smiles all around told us everything we needed to know about the success of the event!"
OKCFOP Vice President Mark Nelson said, "Multiple times a day, Oklahoma City officers respond to situations where children are involved. Far too often, these are less-than-desirable circumstances. When law enforcement is called upon to stand in the gap for these kids, we do so immediately and without fail. As a foster family, my wife and I have learned firsthand of how we can make a difference. The Department of Wildlife and OKDHS giving law enforcement and fire the opportunity to interact with these families in such a positive way was life-changing. We are honored to have had a small part of such a wonderful event. Seeing those children grin from ear to ear automatically made us smile, too."
Rosino (R-Oklahoma City) said, "When I dreamed of this event, I could not have imagined the amazing impact for these children and families or for our first responders. Watching firefighters and police interact with families and giving kids such a positive experience that they will remember forever took my breath away. Every child left with big fishing stories and proud of their accomplishments for the night."
Organizers hope this successful event will kick off a new statewide program offering foster families and the children in their care an activity that’s wholesome, fun, and exciting to share together while growing knowledge and respect for the natural resources around them.
Families interested in learning more about foster care or applying to become a certified foster family in their community may visit okfosters.org to be connected to an area recruiter, or visit okbenefits.org to apply. Follow the prompts on the website to apply or call (800) 376-9729. Interested Oklahomans may also visit www.ourokdhs.org to join the agency's efforts to better serve the community through innovation and collaborative partnerships.