Houston County, AL - More than 500 kids spent Friday morning casting their rods and hoping to reel in a big one.
Joe Phillips said, “It's getting bigger. This is the biggest one we've had. Matter of fact, we've almost run out of poles.”
For the past twelve years, Phillips has opened up his pond to hundreds of kids with special needs. He’s had one angel on his mind.
“God blessed us with a special grandchild and we had her for 12 years. They’re nothing but angels. That's all they are. All they want is love. If you give them 10 minutes they'll give you an hour and a half back,” said Phillips.
Phillips stocked the pond with more than 2,000 fish, and fed them twice a day for 8 months. That has kids catching them left and right.
“Willie, Willie, Willie... that is so big,” you heard one teacher shout.
Ashford High School student, Ashley Smith said, “Basically, you have to bait the hook right.”
Bend Anderson from Dothan City Schools said, “You can catch fish. The bobber will go down, and reel it up.”
Keith Johnson from Girard Middle School gave great advice.
He said, “Try to do the best you can. Put the worm on the hook and throw it as far as you can. Maybe out of nowhere a fish will come and grab the hook, and you just pull it out.”
While the pond had these kids hooked, learning is the bait to this field trip.
“This is social skills at its very finest. The special needs kids interact with the normally developing kids in a way that there are no boundaries,” said Denise Whitfield, Houston County Special Education Coordinator.
From lunch to cleaning the fish, these social lessons wouldn't be possible without the help of volunteers and donations.
“They bless us way more than we could ever bless them. We really have a blast. I think everybody out here has a blast,” said Caroline Crowley.
Phillips added, “I get as much out of this as they do. I really enjoy seeing these special angels out here fishing. We're going to try and do as long as we can do it.”
“The best part is coming fishing and catching fish, and having a good time,” said Jonteria Jones, Ashford High School.
Patience, social skills, and smiles. All In a days catch.
As you can imagine, this day doesn't come cheap. This year, Phillips is selling the fish. All the money will help restock the pond for next year.
You can call Phillips at 334-522-3670 for more information.