Jerry Dunlap is a country man who simply loves the outdoors — just ask him. But as he and a small group of friends grew older, their values seemed to take a noticeable shift.
“We were looking for a way to help,” he said. “Ever since 9/11, people are more patriotic, so we took a wounded veteran out hunting and it evolved from there. We get as much out of it as they do; it makes you feel good.”
The local nonprofit Make A Difference Outdoors aims to provide veterans and special needs individuals with outstanding outdoor experiences. And after a few floundering attempts to get its feet on the ground, the organization recently hosted its fifth annual banquet last month.
The team of 15 volunteers partner with various groups, such as Break the Barriers, to connect with area and out-of-town children and veterans who might be interested in participating in Make A Difference Outdoors’ various, year-round events.
As president of the board, Dunlap said these activities extend to kids’ fishing days where they teach the ins and outs of baiting, catching and cleaning the fish participants get to take home to the more advanced outings of deep sea fishing with veterans.
There are also planned hunts for different types of game, including deer, hog, pheasant and duck, as well as free community classes on hunting safety — their frequency and scale depending on one thing: fundraisers.
“It largely depends on what kind of banquet season we had,” Dunlap explained. “We do as many things as we can; it’s word of mouth. Most of the time we have more people than we can handle.”
This year’s banquet was held on Saturday, May 21 at Kingsburg Gun Club, featuring special guest speaker Sheriff Margaret Mims. The event included a dinner, silent and live auctions, games, a raffle and more, with the goal of earning half the donations needed to fund a bear hunting trip in Manitoba, Canada so Make A Difference Outdoors can cover the rest.
One of the organization’s notable purchases with money raised in the past was the construction of a customized Jeep.
With the extra funds, Make A Difference Outdoors was able to upgrade an old model of the vehicle to make it wheelchair accessible, allowing wheel chair-bound veterans and individuals to drive right onto the jeep for fishing and hunting trips.
“We would like to get bigger and be able to service the people who ask us,” Dunlap said of the nonprofit’s future. “The hunts are expensive events. A lot of times, we have vets who are in wheel chairs and you need to have the right ranch, place and everything in place to have a great experience.”
Because, when it really comes down to it, the volunteer-based group is a labor of love for its members. And as Dunlap explained, the joy expressed by the participants is mirrored in those who are behind Make A Difference Outdoors, and can see firsthand how these experiences impact their lives.
“It’s another form of therapy for them. We’ve had kids say that this is the first time they’ve ever caught a fish, and they’re excited about coming. The veterans don’t say much at first, but by the third day, they’re telling us how they were shot and wounded,” he said. “It’s therapeutic for them, and for the people out there that care about them and are appreciative of what they did.”