A group photo from our last HERYN program day on Saturday, June 26.
During last week’s HERYN (Helping Engage our River’s Youth with Nature) program at the Central PA Wesleyan Campground in New Columbia, our 73 participants caught over 725 fish from the lake and put their new kayaking skills to the test in races and games. Some even tried fried bluegill that was caught from the lake that day!
The kids had so much fun during the program, and it is safe to say our staff and volunteers did as well.
For me, I was so excited to hear part of my internship would be the HERYN program. I had some background knowledge to help the kids with fishing, but before HERYN I had actually never been kayaking before. It was really neat to learn along with the kids throughout the entire week in that way. I now know many different kayak maneuvers, how to tie a Palomar knot, and so much more! As I learned more, I was able to help the kids more too.
I acted as a team leader for half of the kids each day, guiding them from different stations and keeping them focused and encouraged. Working with young kids has always been important to me as it allows you to make such a lasting impact on their lives.
A good amount of the kids did not have experience kayaking, so some were pretty nervous to be out on the water. One of the highlights of the week for me was seeing kids who doubted themselves say how much fun they had kayaking or fishing after they tried it. I saw so many of them gain confidence in the skills they were learning and also feel independent as a result.
One of the girls I had on Friday, Ellie, caught the biggest fish of the week– a largemouth bass. The other kids put their fishing poles down so fast and ran over to go see it. She told us she had never caught many fish before, but to her surprise she caught eight fish that day. In fact, this happened many times throughout the week. Kids who had never caught a fish or been kayaking really excelled as the day went on.
Ellie, 10, catches a largemouth bass on Day 5 of our HERYN program.
Kids who had more experience helped others too, and even they were able to learn something new. Many also showed great sportsmanship. They helped each other get back in their kayaks if they got flipped, unhook fish, put bait on their hooks, and get tangles out of their fishing lines. It was really great to see them connecting like that while also having fun being competitive with each other.
Bonding with the kids was another great part of my experience. The week started with me getting algae thrown at me or splashed every so often during kayak races and games and ended with me getting flipped off my kayak. It was genuinely so much fun!
As part of our closing ceremony each day, I gave a presentation overviewing pollution in our waterways and how kids can help at home. Afterwards we asked the kids what they could do to help our water based on what they learned, and many said:
It made me so happy to see how engaged the kids were at the end of the day, with almost everyone participating and showing excitement. They were all so proud of themselves while receiving their certificates, special awards, and prizes too.
Programs like HERYN that foster love for the outdoors at a young age help kids understand the importance of our natural resources. But I think it is also just really grounding and peaceful for kids to have an experience like what HERYN provides. Another young girl I had this week, Skylar, told me how much she was enjoying spending time away from being inside on her phone while we were kayaking.
Getting kids excited about the outdoors makes them want to be in nature even more. It’s like a domino effect and if it starts at a young age like that it just keeps going. Helping them learn about the outdoors through fun activities makes them understand nature more too. And the more you understand nature, the more you appreciate how much of a gift it is.
All around, our first HERYN program was an amazing success and we cannot wait to continue it in the future. Thank you to everyone who made last week possible!
Check out our photo/video gallery from last week below. It features content from all the program days, including hundreds of photos and videos by staff photographer Michael Kinney and some other staff members and volunteers. It also includes media coverage from the John Oast's Fishyaker Youtube channel and newspapers such as the Sunbury Daily Item and the Milton-Standard Journal. At the bottom, we have also added testimonials and feedback we have received so far from HERYN participants and their families.
John Zaktansky is an award-winning journalist and avid promoter of the outdoors who loves camping, kayaking, fishing and hunting with the family.