Gives children memorable experiences
By John N. Felsher
About 10 years ago, Rick and Carol Clark of Hueytown participated in a turkey hunt to raise money for a hospital. Rick, an avid turkey hunter, called birds for a young man with cancer. But the Clarks wanted to do more to help individual children suffering from critical illnesses and physically debilitating conditions.
“We were so touched by that event that we started working with that group, but our calling was to deal hands-on with children,” recalls Carol, who now serves as the executive director of Kidz Outdoors. “After a lot of prayer and thought, we started our own organization. We have a passion born through first-hand experience, captivated in the smell of the outdoors and molded into our youth through mentorship. Our mission is to form bonds by linking family and friends to pass on our passion for the outdoors to a new generation.”
The Clarks began taking children on outdoors adventures in 2012, but officially founded the Kidz Outdoors organization in 2013. Since then, they’ve worked with more than 4,000 children, taking hundreds of them on adult-mentored dream hunts for deer, wild boar, turkey, exotic game and other adventures.
How they help
For children with severe physical disabilities, Kidz Outdoors obtains any special medical apparatus that a child might need. For instance, one apparatus allows a child either without arms and legs, or one unable to use them, to pull a trigger on a gun by sucking through a straw. The organization buys some special devices by raising money, but gets others donated so the group can meet the needs of every child who wants to participate in a dream hunt or another activity.
“We’ve driven several hours to meet a child before taking that child hunting,” Carol says. “We want to make sure that every child, regardless of the disability, has the ability to shoot a gun. We don’t want a child to have an unsuccessful hunt because he or she is just not physically capable of doing it. We gear to children, but we don’t put an age limit on anyone.”
Many children who participate in dream hunts and other activities are terminal. For some, a Kidz Outdoors adventure could be their only such experience in lives cut short by disease.
The Clarks cannot do it alone. Many volunteers enthusiastically take children on adventures. Besides hunting, children also experience skeet shooting, fishing and other activities. A man in Texas even bought property, stocked it with many exotic animals and fenced it off for the children to enjoy.
“Each year, we take 12 to 14 children to do a pheasant shoot at Soggy Bottom Lodge in Linden,” Carol says. “Every November, we also hold a big youth deer hunt at the lodge. This fall, we’ll be taking a young man from Alaska to hunt deer on the lodge property. We’ve had people come from as far away as California and Utah to hunt with us. When we get together with all these children, it’s like a family reunion. It’s amazing to see all these kids coming here to Alabama from somewhere else. They stay in touch with each other.”
During the November 2018 youth hunt at Soggy Bottom Lodge, 104 children participated. They killed 58 deer in one day.
“We have a really good relationship with Soggy Bottom Lodge,” Carol says. “When I first met J.R. Rivas, the owner, he said that if we needed anything, just ask. I started thinking about it. About a month later, I asked him to help us put on a skeet shoot to raise money for the children. He went so far out of his way to make it a success. He and his people at the lodge did so much work to put on this event and make it such a success for the children that I had tears in my eyes.” (See story on the lodge on Page 40.)
For autistic children, Kidz Outdoors participates in a program called Island Dolphin Care. In this five-day class, the children interact with dolphins and swim with them.
“The first girl we took to Island Dolphin Care was non-verbal and throwing fits,” Carol remembers. “By the third day, she was a totally different child. The next time, we brought her back with another child. For both of them, it was like night and day from the time we brought them until we left.”
Medical devices and adventures cost money. Periodically, Kidz Outdoors holds auctions and other fundraising events. Each May, the group brings many children to Soggy Bottom Lodge for a day of fun activities during a major fundraiser. Despite horrible weather during the 2019 event, Kidz Outdoors raised more than $100,000 in one day.
“Soggy Bottom Lodge enabled us to increase the number of children we could take hunting by getting behind the effort and allowing us to hold fundraisers on the property,” Carol says.
Although the 501(c)(3) charity receives help and donations from many people, the Clarks can always use more volunteers and donations. They particularly need landowners to allow access to property where Kidz Outdoors can take children hunting. The Clarks don’t want to turn away any children in need because they don’t have a place where those children can take their dream hunts.
“We always need money and volunteers to help,” Carol says. “Each one of the chapters works hard for the money we collect. We can’t do this without help from others through monetary, land, guide services, hunts, sponsorships and in-kind donations. We appreciate Soggy Bottom Lodge and all the other people and organizations that help us throughout the year so we can allow these children to participate in a hunt. It’s been amazing to watch the organization grow in the past few years.”
People can also get involved with five other state and regional Kidz Outdoors chapters beside the one in Hueytown near Birmingham. To contact the Clarks, call 205-410-3779 or visit kidzoutdoors.org.