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Trussville Baptist finds fulfillment in offering fishing trips for special-needs childrencomment (0)

May 21, 2009

By Jeremy Henderson

He picked trash up off the ground. He held the door open for older ladies. He went to church.

Brian Atkins was a good guy. Passionate, even. But it wasn’t until he took some special kids fishing that he found what was missing in his life.

“There was kind of a void,” said Atkins, a member of NorthPark Baptist Church, Trussville, in Birmingham Baptist Association. “I wasn’t being used. On the tombstones in the cemetery, there’s a birth date and a death date and what really matters is what’s in between.”

For Atkins, a team leader at the Mercedes-Benz factory in Tuscaloosa County and an avid fisherman, that in-between now involves sharing the mist off the boat, the tug on the line, the deep-breath relaxation of an Alabama weekend on the water with kids who might never have the chance to experience them. 

In 2007, Atkins became the Alabama coordinator of C.A.S.T (Catching a Special Thrill) for Kids, a national 501(c)3 nonprofit organization begun in 1991 that offers single-day fishing events for disadvantaged, disabled and special-needs children.

But he almost didn’t. In fact, he initially turned the job down. “I met a man named Mike Broggi from Rhode Island here in 2007 at the Bassmaster Classic in Birmingham.”

Broggi was a C.A.S.T. coordinator in Rhode Island and was keeping an eye open for the right man in Alabama.

“He said ‘Brian, how would you like to do something to change your life?’ I said sure. He told me about C.A.S.T. and said, ‘Well, we take handicapped kids fishing for a day,’” Atkins said.

Atkins instantly reeled in his line. The emotions he’d feel being around hurting kids? No way. “I lost my mom to cancer,” he said. “I told them there was no way I could do that.”

And after he said no, there was also no way he could sleep. “That night, I couldn’t sleep a wink,” he said. “The Good Lord wouldn’t let me. I tossed, I turned, I got up and ate something. I watched TV.”

So the next morning, Atkins found Broggi and said, “Tell me what you got, my friend.”

Broggi told him. Atkins swallowed hook, line and sinker. He flew to Rhode Island to participate in a C.A.S.T. tournament. He took pictures. He shot videos. He brought them back to Alabama, sold some folks on the idea and got his own committee — people with a passion to make their in-between mean something, too. 

Take May 2 at Lake Guntersville, for example. It was C.A.S.T. for Kids Alabama’s second fishing tournament. Seventy boats and boat captains showed up from across the state and even Mississippi. Atkins got 65 kids to register, thanks to word of mouth as well as efforts by his wife, Pam, who coordinates with groups in Birmingham like United Cerebral Palsy.

And he had lots of help, from fishermen as well as nonfishermen like Brad Hollifeld.

Hollifield, a member of North Gardendale Baptist Church in North Jefferson Baptist Association, steers clear of the actual fishing and helps run the music and the P.A. system — along with giving Atkins a little boost when the going gets tough.

This year, Hollifield said, “was a monsoon … I came running down to check on our sound equipment and Brian was just standing there by himself.”

Atkins was on the verge of tears.

“I had done everything I could,” Atkins said. “I did all the planning and the rain was still coming down and I was just brokenhearted.”

But Hollifield had a word. “He (Atkins) said, ‘Man, I’m just really discouraged right now. I just want to be by myself. All these people have put in all this time and effort and for what.’ I said, ‘Hey, that’s not yours to do. You’ve done what you were supposed to do. Now it’s up to God,’” Hollifield said. 

Atkins nodded. “It really changed my whole outlook,” he said of his friend’s words.

Twenty minutes later, it stopped raining. The wind quit blowing. The fish started biting.

“Boy, that just really touched my heart,” Atkins said. “We had pontoon boats to take kids out that were in wheelchairs. We ended up having a great time.”

Forty of the 65 kids that registered braved the weather and participated. Atkins said that those that didn’t make it will be first on his list to call next year.

“I can’t even tell you how many people were touched by this,” he said. “I’m still getting thank you’s. You know, ‘Thanks for getting my son out on the water. That’s all he’s talking about. He won’t even take his life jacket off.’”

Atkins gets emotional just thinking about it. “That’s what drives my boat — if I can make a child happy,” he said.

For more information on C.A.S.T. for Kids Alabama, call 205-520-4189 or visit www.castforkidsalabama.org.

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