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Federal Ammunition has a long history of supporting efforts to connect young people with the shooting sports and great outdoors. We sponsor a variety of shooting and conservation-based organizations and programs including Pass It On – Outdoor Mentors. Launched in 1999, the organization works with a variety of state agencies and groups like Big Brothers Big Sisters to match kids with an interest in the outdoors—but no connection to it—with trained, dedicated mentors.
“Our whole focus is on recruiting mentors to match up with kids who have no one to take them fishing, hunting or shooting,” says Pass It On Director Mike Christensen.
Christensen explains that what began as an effort by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks to bolster the ranks of hunters and anglers has grown beyond the borders of Kansas to include activities in Alabama, Alaska, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.
He credits the support of sponsors like Federal, the National Shooting Sports Foundation and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation for helping the organization expand, but says the program is still in dire need of more mentors.
“Some organizations we work with, like Big Brothers Big Sisters, literally have thousands of kids on the waiting list for a mentor,” he says. “I personally believe every hunter and angler needs to step up and do this. Not just to change individual lives, but to preserve our entire outdoor heritage for future generations to enjoy.”
Christensen practices what he preaches. He’s mentored a number of youths over the years. One of them, Dana Schweers, is a testament to the difference a mentor can make in the life of a child.
Schweers, a 30-year-old sheet metal worker from Valley Center, Kansas, credits Christensen and Pass It On for nurturing his love of the outdoors and kickstarting his career in the skilled trades.
“There’s no doubt that I wouldn’t have this connection to the outdoors or be the man I am today without Mike and the Pass It On program,” says Schweers.
Now an avid sportsman and accomplished tradesman with Sheet Metal Workers Local 29—part of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers—Schweers was one of the first youths in his area to become involved with the Pass It On – Outdoor Mentors program.
“I was 12 or 13 when I first met Mike,” Schweers recalls. “Our family didn’t have a lot and my dad was disabled, so he wasn’t able to take me hunting or fishing. Mike stepped up and introduced me to the outdoors. He took me fishing or hunting almost every weekend I didn’t have a football game. And when I had a game, he’d always be there, cheering me on.”
Christensen recalls their meeting and ensuing adventures as well. “Dana was in a hunter’s education class and was chosen to participate in a quail hunt,” he says. “We hit it off immediately, and I mentored him until he graduated high school at age 18. We did all kinds of things together—we fished, hunted deer, turkeys and pheasants, went canoeing and shot in a skeet league. Any opportunity to get outdoors or learn more about it, we took it. We stay in touch to this day, and Dana volunteers with a number of Pass It On events.”
“It’s important for me to give back because Mike and Pass It On gave so much to me,” says Schweers. “I don’t think I could ever repay him or the program for everything they’ve taught me.”
Schweers admits volunteering also has other rewards. “It’s hard to describe, but it feels good to watch kids connect with the outdoors,” he says. “And seeing the excitement on their faces when they get their first deer or bird is priceless.”
On the jobsite, Schweers religiously encourages co-workers to get involved in mentoring efforts, and he offers the same advice to all hunters and shooters. “I highly recommend mentoring because you could change someone’s life the way Mike and Pass It On changed mine,” he says. “Like Mike says all the time, ‘you’re planning on going hunting or fishing anyway, why not take one more person with you?’”
Christensen tells would-be volunteers that the experience can be life-changing for mentors as well. “For example, a gentleman named Bruce, who lives near Kansas City, emailed to say God called him to contact us and he wanted to help,” he recalls. “That’s not an everyday request. But the man had vast outdoors experience and passed our requirements, so we referred him to Big Brothers Big Sisters, who matched him up with a young man named George.
“George was typical of many kids we work with,” Christensen continues. “He was from a single-parent home, struggling in school and pretty much disinterested with life in general. But when Bruce and George began spending time together hunting and fishing, George’s grades, behavior and outlook took a dramatic turn for the better.”
Perhaps the most compelling part of the mentorship occurred after a successful deer hunt, during which Bruce helped George drop a beautiful 9-point buck.
“George’s mother couldn’t afford to have the deer processed, so they took the buck to Bruce’s to butcher it together,” Christensen explains. “As they ground some of the meat, George asked if it would be good with Hamburger Helper. When Bruce assured him it would be, George replied, ‘That’s great. We’ve been eating Hamburger Helper for months but haven’t had any meat to put in it.’
“Bruce was deeply affected by that and broke down several times while telling me about it,” Christensen says. “Unfortunately, George’s situation isn’t unique. There are a lot of kids who need help. But thanks to caring mentors like Bruce who are willing to make a difference, their worlds can be different—and better.”
For more information on Pass It On – Outdoor Mentors and volunteer opportunities near you, visit outdoormentors.org.