St. LOUIS, Mo.—50 degree temperatures and blustery winds might have kept some kids indoors, butut not the youths of the Ferguson Strength and Honor Mentoring and Tutoring Program (SAHMTMT). While other kids might have stayed inside, these kids were out having a blast catching fish.
The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) and the St. Louis County Police Department partnered to host a Kids Fishing Fair for youths of the SAHMT on May 14. Also joining the fair were kids from the St. Louis County Police Department’s Athletic League. All of them had the opportunity to learn fishing under the mentorship of conservation agents and police officers at MDC’s Bellefontaine Conservation Area in north St. Louis County.
“With all that has gone on around Ferguson in the recent past, these kids deserve a fun day of fishing and discovering nature while having a chance to connect in a positive way with law enforcement folks,” said MDC Conservation Agent Lexis Riter, organizer of the event.
SAHMT is the brainchild of Ferguson-Florissant School District Science Teacher Albert Harrold. His goal in starting the program was to help make a change in struggling communities by instilling core values important in helping children become effective adults. SAHMT provides positive activities and mentoring experiences that encourage its members to better themselves.
“Kids need that affirmation and they need the reassurance they are somebody in life. We as adults can give them that,” said Harrold.
Harrold said his program, which has been around for five years, will have 50 to 70 youths involved this year. The program was started and based in Ferguson, but Harrold is expanding this year into Normandy as well. In the past, SAHMT membership has been mostly boys, but Harrold is now actively recruiting girls into his program, too.
“We have to get more girls involved, because my daughter here may be up to four or five fish by this point,” Harrold beamed as he motioned toward his daughter, Aniyah Rose, age 5, who was also fishing that day.
MDC provided all the fishing equipment, but a few kids elected to bring some of their own. Even as chilly winds spread ripples across Bellefontaine Conservation Area’s Catfish Pond that Saturday afternoon, kids baited their hooks (some a bit squeamishly), cast their lines, and gleefully reeled in fish after fish.
Adrian, age 10, said it was his eighth or ninth time fishing. “It gets me out of the house,” he smiled when asked what he liked about fishing. His favorite place to fish is Cuivre River. At that point, he had already caught six fish. He said he was going for lucky seven.
Nine-year-old Elijah had already caught ten fish and was winning the competition he was having with his brother nearby, who was only up to six fish so far. He was excited that he’d caught more fish than he was years old.
After a few hours of fishing, conservation agents from MDC’s St. Louis Region fried up mounds of catfish and potato fries for the kids to enjoy. A lot of the kids came back for seconds, and a few even snuck in for thirds.
“I was happy to see everyone had a good time today,” Riter said. “We love to see kids fishing and bonding with law enforcement people. We want them to see we’re their friends.”