Fishing offers healing, serenity

by Anna Jauhola (The Daily Republic)

Monday, June 25, 2012

John Alvarez, owner and operator of My Fishing Pond, Inc. outside of Bridgewater, stands by the man-made fishing pond behind him home recently.  He started the pond in 2002 to help those with brain injuries relax and rehabiliate.  He now also hosts at-risk youth and the elderly.

Photo: Chris Huber/Republic

Alvarez opened pond by home to aid others

BRIDGEWATER -- A tiny man-made pond a few miles outside Bridgewater has brought joy to children and adults with special needs since 2002.

Money used to be a main inspiration for John Alvarez, owner and operator of My Fishing Pond, Inc.  He started his career in mining and looked for each opportunity to turn a profit.

In 1994, however, he suffered a traumatic brain injury during a vehicle crash in Arizona.  He and his wife, Dee Ann, moved to Bridgewater to get away from the busy city life, which caused Alvarez distress.  Dee Ann is originally from Bridgewater.

Alvarez said his inspiration for the pond came after he suffered the brain injury.  He so much enjoyed the serenity that accompaines fishing in a rural setting that he started to think how he could help others like him find serenity.

During a brain injury support group meeting in Sioux Falls, he suggested the idea to the group.  One man, who could only move one arm and could not speak clearly was thrilled and emitted the sounds: "Oooo, Oooo."

"He got so excited and felt pretty strongly about [the pond], " Alvarez said.  "That's my inspiration."

The construction was slow work, as Alvarez and his son, Trevor, created landscaping around the pond themselves with shovels and a wheelbarrow.  Dakota Soil Construction of Lennox excavated the pond.

When local and area people heard of the project, they started pitching in.  Farmers brought tractors for work on and around the pond, ciric groups helped out with landscaping, and others simply volunteered time or donated to the project.

Alvarez hosts special needs groups from places like the Abbott House and Firesteel Health Care Center in Mitchell, and a group from a brain injury support group in Sioux Falls.

Above, a smallmouth bass jumps from the water after being hooked by one of the residents of the Abbott House while fishing at My Fishing Pond, Inc., near Bridgewater. 

Photo: Chris Huber/Republic

He started out hosting only groups with traumatic brain injuries and at-risk children.  Through volunteers' suggestions, Alvarez opened up the pond to the older generation as well.

Alvarez and his close friend, Joe Sisco, do most of the fundraising by visiting businesses for donations and selling raffle tickets.

Ted Hofer, of Freeman, began helping Alvarez the first year by donating a new grill and cooking all the food for each event at the pond.  He's been donating and volunteering each year since.

Vern Eide in Mitchell bagan its involvement last year by donating all the food for a few of the fishing events.

Alvarez has visited Kelly Ramer, general manager of Vern Eide in Mitchell, and asked if he would like to buy some raffle tickets.  Kramer tossed the packet of tickets back at Alvarez and said, "That's not what I wanted to do."

Instead, Kramer provided food, volunteers and a new car to support My Fishing Pond.

"The Lord sent these people down to me to keep doing this," Alvarez said of Kramer and other volunteers.

All the work of trying to fundraise for the nonprofit is worth the tons of smiles a day of fishing brings to those who visit My Fishing Pond, he said.

Alvarez hosted a group of girls from the Abbott House, most of whom had never been fishing..

One girl, Deanna, had the fortune of returning this year and told staff at the Abbott House how excited she was.

"She couldn't believe she got to come again," said Diane Westberg, a teacher's aide at Abbott House, on Tuesday.  "We told her we were coming today and she said, 'Are we going fishing?'  They had a blast."

The girls spread out around the pond and almost instantly began catching fish.

Sreams of delight and support could be heard all around the pond Tuesday each time a girl started reeling in a big fish and got it to shore.

Friends and family had been instrumental in helping Alverez's dream stay afloat.  Over the last 11 years, his cousin, Ken Miller, has donated $1,200 annually, and his uncle, Clifford Miller, has also contributed.

Sisco's friend, Jan Harness, who lives in Georgia, has donated each year and this year she donated a hole in the Salem Gold Course for the golf package fundraiser.  Harness wrote a note to Alvarez expressing the importance of his program and the difference it makes.

Alvarez said My Fishing Pond would not be possible without the generosity of those who donate and volunteer.

Currently, Alvarez uses a utility vehicle to get around his rural residence, but it has been on the fritz for awhile.  It's becoming unreliable and he needs it for catching minnows, selling raffle tickets, and working around the yard.  His brain injury causes him to tire easily, so the vehicle is vital.

"Any help I can get would be appreciated," he said.

He's also appreciative of Greg Mackey, of Bridgewater, who helps Alvarez by driving him long distances when needed.

Alvarez's large fundraisers have already taken place for the year, but typically include tickets for a Mitchell raffle package, a Sioux Falls raffle package, and a golf raffle package.

The Mitchell and Sioux Falls packages include items like gift certificates, jewelry, and cash.

The gold package, to which Jan Harness donated the cost of one hole on the McCook County Club golf course, includes gift certificates, green fees, rounds of golf and cash.

Currently, Alvarez and volunteers are selling tickets for a gun raffle.  The first place winner receives a Beretta A400 SXPLOR Lite 12-guage semi-autmoatic shotgun and a two-person hunt at A1 All's Pheasant Ranch near Emery.

Second place winner receives $250 and a one-person hunt at A1 Al's.

The drawing will be held Sept 28.  Tickets are $10 a piece or three for $20.

Residents of the Abbott House fish at My Fishing Pond Inc. near Bridgewater earlier this week.  My Fishing Pond Inc. gives disabled, at-risk or elderly people a chance to fish in a safe environment.

Photo: Chris Huber / Republic