Dodgers All-Star pitcher Brad Penny hosted 40 kids from the Daniel Hernandez Youth Foundation on a fishing trip Thursday, many of whom are from South Gate, or El Monte. While many children are provided the opportunity to fish and boat, trips like these not only provide the kids from South Gate and El Monte the same opportunity, it exposes them to new experiences, teaches them important life skills and gives them hope.
The Daniel Hernandez Youth Foundation has been using fishing trips like these since 2001 to build youths' self-esteem and self-confidence, working to ensure that every child gets an opportunity to experience the thrill of sport fishing and a basic introduction in the marine sciences. Hernandez leads thousands of children on fishing trips each year thanks in part to the Blue Cross of California Foundation, which supports the Daniel Hernandez Youth Foundation. The Blue Cross of California Foundation covered all costs for this fishing trip. Hernandez befriended Penny on a fishing trip three years ago, and the two have been buddies ever since.
"This is a great opportunity for the kids to get out on the water and learn something new," said Penny, as he slid a piece of sliced squid onto his hook. "It's peaceful and quiet, and if one of the kids picks up fishing, it's a success."
Also on board was Tommy Lasorda, who served as the ceremonial skipper, and was rife with advice for the children and very supportive of the effort.
"When you can spend your time, energy and money on kids, you are making a tremendous investment," said Lasorda.
As the 75-foot boat cruises through the harbor past giant tankers and shipping cranes, the vessels cast an easy wake and the kids receive a lesson in bait. As a fresh squid is sliced into pieces, a unanimous "Ewwwwww" is heard from the crowd of kids eager to cast off.
For this trip, Hernandez contacted El Monte's Our Savior Center and the Puma Anglers Club from South Gate's San Miguel Elementary. The Puma Anglers are an after-school club devoted to fishing. The Anglers meet every Wednesday and are led by third-grade teacher Rafael Duran.
Duran, who received funding for the club from the California Department of Fish and Game, teaches casting, knot tying, and fishing skills, and even has a representative from the CDFG teach ecology, water conservation and biodiversity. All this is done in an effort to help the children lead promising lives.
"Kids from urban areas can learn healthy life habits," said Duran. "We want to teach the kids about fishing, but we also want to teach them about ethics and citizenship. We try to reach out to the kids who need a little extra help, or who can really benefit."
As the boat leaves the harbor, the seas get a little stronger and the rock and sway intensify. The kids are leaning over deck, looking at the water, and the seagulls are pacing alongside looking for food. The boys are grasping for guppies in the tank holding the bait, and the girls are trying to feed the birds.
One such child to whom Duran was referring, Angel Navarro, is preparing his pole with bait. Navarro lost his father last year after a long and debilitating battle with diabetes. Duran taught Navarro in third grade and watched his grades dip as his father's condition worsened. Navarro was always a good worker and a strong student, as well as a member of the Puma Anglers. When Duran saw the negative effects of the death of the boy's father, he knew a solution that would keep him on track; he had him come on the fishing trip.
"He said to me, 'Mr. Duran, I'm going to catch a fish and show my dad how to fish,'" said Duran. "Angel would take pictures of his catches and take them to his dad in the hospital."
Navarro has been fishing before, but not since his father's death.
"These trips are bigger than me," said Duran. "Doors are opened and opportunities are presented. We're just glad to be able to do it. The work is minimal compared to the reward."
As the boat floats with 40-plus lures dangling off its hull, the kids are reeling in one fish after another. Aseel Hussein, a shy third-grader wearing an oversized hat and T-shirt, who is on her first trip and is more excited about not having homework than feeling slimy fish, actually reels in two sculpins, her first two ever. George Muniz, another third-grader who has grown a passion for fishing through his experience with the Puma Anglers pulls up a mackerel.
"When you see a young person's face light up with their first catch, it's an amazing experience," beamed Duran, as Hussein let a broad smile squeak past her uneasy grip of the fish she caught.
Imagine how amazing it was when later in the afternoon, Navarro surprised Duran with an unexpected hug around his waist.
"I caught three fish today," exclaimed Navarro. "A mackerel, a sculpin and a sand bass!"
"All three, I'm so proud of you, Angel," said Duran.
No doubt, so is Angel's father.