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Let's Go Fishing survives choppy waters

WILLMAR -- The nail biting is over, and now the work begins for Let's Go Fishing.

Seven minutes before deadline, an omnibus bill containing state funding for the nonprofit organization reached the governor's desk.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty has since signed the bill into law and left intact the funding for the nonprofit organization. The legislation provides $150,000 in each of the next two years from the Department of Natural Resource's heritage fund. The organization must match the state funds to receive them.

"Humbled, and very, very pleased at the same time,'' said Joe Holm, president and founder of Let's Go Fishing with Seniors.

The funding will enable Let's Go Fishing to expand throughout the state. Since its start in Willmar in 2002, it has grown to include 22 active chapters across the state.

Last year, some 1,100 volunteers provided fishing and boating excursions for more than 10,000 seniors.

Let's Go Fishing is very popular with legislators. Many want to see it expanded into their districts, but the state budget crisis nearly sunk the legislation, according to Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, who ushered it through the process.

To address the funding concerns, Juhnke proposed using new revenues that were to be raised by a bill allowing two fishing lines. It would have offered anglers a two-line privilege for a $10 fee, and was projected to raise more than $2.5 million annually.

The fishing line bill was torpedoed in the final days of the session. Juhnke was able to rescue the Let's Go Fishing bill when the DNR indicated there were funds available in its heritage fund.

Juhnke said Let's Go Fishing is on the cusp of being self-supporting, and the two years of funding should help it reach that goal.

Along with reaching out to all areas of the state, Let's Go Fishing is also expanding its scope. It is reaching out to serve veterans. And, it is developing an intergenerational program to match young helpers and senior citizen mentors.

The state funding will make it possible to add a program development/fund raiser position, said Holm.

The funding can be used only for expanding the organization's reach. He is concerned that people might mistakenly believe that the state funds will support local chapters. All of the local chapter activities are funded by local contributions, sponsorships and the work of volunteers, he said.

Holm said Let's Go Fishing was launched as a way to give back to seniors.

It's turning out to impact the lives of its volunteers as well. He said volunteers have come back from outings with moving stories about how much the outings meant to their guests.

"If it doesn't touch the very depths of your heart, I don't know what will,'' said Holm of the experience.