Providing Hope Through the Outdoors

By Earl Taylor

The roosted gobbler startled Josh Herman; it was the first gobble of the morning, and Josh had never heard such a sound. He came to full alert as his guide and friend made the first call of the morning. Josh was experiencing his first turkey hunt while bound to his wheelchair and rigged with a specially made shooting mechanism that allowed him to pull the trigger if and when the gobbler came into range.

“As the morning progressed, I reflected on my journey. Just two years before, I was hospitalized with a brain tumor. After the operation, I needed a wheelchair to move around. Never, ever did I expect I would have the opportunity to go back into the woods and hunt while dependent on my wheelchair,” says Herman, the 26-year-old Iowa City native.

“Before my surgery, I loved to shoot and be outdoors,” Herman states. “The surgery left me with some challenges. When I met the representatives of Serving Youth Challenges (SYC), I found a group of men who helped me by providing the mechanism and the opportunity for me to go on my first turkey hunt. I saw and heard lots of birds and even got a shot but missed; I have gone on two hunts with SYC, and I hope to do it again!”

SYC is not alone. All over Iowa and throughout the United States, organizations have emerged to meet the special needs of soldiers, firefighters, children, and youth with special challenges in their life; whether from an accident, combat, illness or birth.

Sportsmen are generous; both with their time and their money. Present a story and a giving opportunity to a sportsman and the checkbook is pulled out. Give a sportsman an invitation to assist and teach someone younger, and he will line up to be a guide and helper.

Phil Driver, a co-founder and board member of SYC in Iowa states, “I have hunted all my life, but I would rather give up hunting than stop serving with SYC; I receive so much joy from seeing young people with challenges in their lives being able to hunt. We are constantly looking to serve more and more youth; please contact us if you know of someone who we can serve.”

Special Youth Challenge (SYC) of Iowa is a nonprofit Christian based ministry designed to teach and assist youth with special challenges to participate in and enjoy shooting sports in God’s great outdoors. SYC provides training and other necessary aides to help the hunters achieve this goal at no cost to them. There are three events held each year; a turkey hunt in the spring, a fundraiser in August, and a deer hunt in September.

According to Dennis Somers, a co-founding board member of SYC, “Our mission is to empower physically challenged youth to enjoy hunting and the shooting sports by helping them overcome barriers found in the outdoors. We overcome the barriers through the use of special methods, equipment, and assistance from volunteers who desire to share their passion for shooting and hunting. SYC hunters have a physical challenge, special need or have (had) a life-threatening disease or injury.”

Somers continues, “We have purchased land in northwest Iowa, developed facilities, and have relationships with landowners that allows us to bring in 25 to 30 young people each spring and fall for an outdoors experience. In addition to our young people, we also host four wounded veterans on deer and turkey hunts each year. We rely on volunteers to assist, and we rely on the generosity of others to provide the funds that enable us to accomplish our mission.” To find additional information go to or call 866-SYC-IOWA.

When a child is born, all parents want to be able to declare “perfect baby.” Each child is “fearfully and wonderfully made,” by the Creator. Whenever a child is born with physical or mental challenges, parenting gets tougher. Have a child with autism, and the young parents are worn to a frazzle keeping the child safe and directed.

Retrieving Freedoms, located in Waverly Iowa, is a non-profit organization dedicated to training service dogs to help people. Their three primary focuses are training dogs to serve the needs of veterans, children with autism and individuals living with diabetes. They breed and train chosen dogs that exhibit specific traits necessary to perform tasks to help these individuals, and they believe in matching the dog to the recipient.

According to Jolene Philo, an expert on children with special needs and author of A Different Dream for My Child and other books, “Families need others to assist their loved ones with special challenges with experiences that make life richer and fuller. Special needs and disabilities often lead to isolation for the affected person and the caregiver. Organizations like Retrieving Freedoms break through that barrier by providing opportunities to create both experiences for those with disabilities and relationships with the volunteers who assist them.”
Retrieving Freedoms states, “Our training program isn’t designed to train each dog to follow a certain program. Instead, dogs are trained to meet the needs of their specific recipient. The dogs go through more than two years of training to meet our strict standards for a successful placement.” For information about how you can be involved with Retrieving Freedoms go to

Our freedoms as Americans are the result of those who have served our country in the past and continue to serve today. In America, our constitution states we have the freedom and the right to bear arms. Without those who serve faithfully in our armed forces, we could have followed the European model of tight gun control and non-existent opportunities for the common man to own a gun or to hunt.

War, emergencies, and confrontation with unlawful people have left our men and women in uniform with physical challenges of their own. Wounded Warriors, a national organization, with an Iowa chapter provides opportunities for men and women to continue experiencing the outdoors by providing equipment and opportunities to hunt and fish.

A fall deer hunt takes place in the Iowa Ammunition Plant in Middletown, Iowa. Wounded Warriors and the Iowa DNR combine their efforts to provide quality hunts for wounded veterans. More information about Wounded Warriors can be found at

Catch-A-Dream is a national non-profit foundation which provides once-in-a-lifetime dream hunting and fishing trips to children across the United States and Canada, age 18 and younger, who suffer from life-threatening illnesses. Through these adventures, and exposure to outdoors-minded people who care, the program instills in these children a message of encouragement at a time when they need to know that hope does, indeed, exist.

But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. – Isaiah 40:31 (NIV)

According to Catch-A-Dream’s website, “It is this very message of hope, as promised in Isaiah 40:31, that we seek to instill in these children and their families. We use hunting and fishing as opportune tools to expose them to the ‘wonders of God’ that await them as they spend time in the outdoors, away from the bleak and sterile world of medical facilities, treatments, and hospital gowns, but in the presence of The Creator who is the Author of real hope.” You can find out more at

Hope for Heroes (HFH) is a nonprofit organization that combines a deep love and passion for outdoor activities with emotional and spiritual healing for military, fire, police, and EMS personnel, who’ve experienced life-altering disabilities while in the line of duty.

HFH was founded by retired Westchester County K9 Police Officer and US Army 101st Airborne Scout Sniper, Mitch Serlin. After a personal battle with PTSD, Serlin learned he was not alone. Fellow officers and friends were also suffering from similar (and worse circumstances) and felt their lives were cut short and feared never being able to return doing the things they loved. HFH changes that mindset by creating experiences that are physically and emotionally possible for all heroes – Serlin calls it “camouflage therapy.”
More information may be found at

It is easy to become so focused on harvesting the next big deer or to add another long beard to the collection, that we often don’t realize the importance to rising above the hunt and to assist someone who is in need of a guide, a friend, and a supplier of equipment and time to give to someone who faces life-challenges.

Find an organization that fits you, whether faith-based or others. Each organization relies on volunteer and donations for these hunts and fishing outings to become successful. Your hearts and minds will melt as you watch and assist young people and adults overcome their challenges with your assistance. Giving hope to others provides fulfillment and personal satisfaction that outshines hunting by yourself.

• Communicate to families with special needs children about these organizations. Be the driving force to help a child hunt with SYC. Make the phone call to SYC to suggest a potential hunter.

• Volunteer your time. Retrieving Freedom uses adopted families to help train their special dogs.

• Attend fund raisers and write a generous check.

• Educate yourself about how you can come alongside of families with special needs children. Read one of Jolene Philo’s books about the struggles and challenges parents face. (her books are available through Amazon)

• Show kindness to families with special need family members; offer hope to those who face physical challenges and needs. Include them in your outdoor adventures.