Project Update - South West Arkansas

It’s less about whatever skill level we have as fly fishermen or our ability to teach another person to throw a perfect loop and more about the positive impact we can have on their life. That lasting impact comes from time invested talking, listening, laughing and just hanging out. Being a friend, a good human... it really is that simple. The hard exteriors start softening up and the mentees start to be able to just be a kid again.

I am seeing this unfold in front of me in this year’s project. This year we have our first TMP Alumni come back for a second year. Last year the mentee was a great kid, but very quiet and reserved. He didn’t so much as crack a smile through the first three outings, but then we went to the river. He picked the fly to fish with, the spot in the water, and where the casts would be made. Within the first few casts the he landed his first rainbow trout and the mentor landed his first real smile. On the final outing at Dry Run Creek, this mentee never stopped smiling and had this self confidence that we hadn’t seen.

This year I was stoked to find out that this mentee would join us again. What I saw in him the first session this year was totally different from the kid I met in the first session last year. This kid, he showed up with that same bright Dry Run Creek smile and the self confidence was just over the top, in a good way. He talked to us, he laughed with us, he had fun, and he encouraged me and reinforced to me that this matters. I wish I could “rewind the tape” and let you see the difference in this kid. I’m not saying it was all because of The Mayfly Project that this happened, but it did happen... and we were there to be part of it.

Matthew Bearden - TMP Lead Mentor, SW Arkansas

SW Arkansas project is mentoring 6 children this year at a group home for boys who are in foster care. This is their 3rd year mentoring at this group home and the boys are having a blast this summer, learning how to catch fish right at the group home, as well as on adventures in the community.

Meet Annette Hurley

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Annette Hurley grew up in El Dorado, Arkansas playing in the woods daily and going to the Ouachita River every weekend in the summer, water skiing and "cane pole" fishing with her family. Her dad taught her many life lessons, among them how to operate boats and back up trailers. During summers away from college at the Uof A, she was head of water skiing at Camp Sequoya in Bristol, Virginia, also teaching canoeing, sailing and making friends for life from all over the country. Her love of the outdoors led to developing an organic fertilizing business in Little Rock in the early 90's where she called herself "an entre-manure", due to the products used. She sold that business in 2001 and is now a Realtor with Remax Elite.

Fly fishing became a passion in her life during the early '90s after seeing A River Runs Through It. As one of few women who fly fished in the area, her men-friends from the local fly fishing club helped develop her skills and she has an eagerness to always be learning more about the sport. Annette mostly fishes the White River in N. Arkansas and the Little Red River closer to home. In 2016 another fly fisheman introduced her to TMP and from that moment she felt the need to give back to a sport that has given her so much pleasure and peace and an even greater love of nature. After meeting Jess and Laura, Annette became a mentor in 2017. Now she also checks references for TMP which has amazed her that so many other thoughtful, caring and awesome people all across the country have the same need to give back and help these foster kids learn a lifelong sport and learn the lessons of fly fishing that they can apply to everyday life.

Meet Mollie Simpkins

National Media and Outreach Coordinator - Bozeman, Montana

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Growing up outside Chicago, Mollie's family fishing roots run deep. However, it didn't become her mad passion until 2006 while living in Baltimore. It was during her first trip west, in 2007 to fish the Yellowstone area, in which she drove the the Beartooth Pass and knew she had to make the mountains her home. It was also at this time she discovered her love of philanthropy and fundraising.

Because of the loss of her mother to breast cancer in 1991, was drawn to the work and mission of Casting for Recovery. She served in many capacities with the Mid-Atlantic Program eventually becoming the Program Manager. In addition to her work with CfR, has served on the boards of Maryland Trout Unlimited, the WestSlope Chapter of Trout Unlimited in Missoula, and a Maryland-based non-profit, For 3 Sisters.

Early in 2018, Mollie discovered The Mayfly Project, and being aware of how transformative fly fishing and being on the water can be, was excited to become a mentor in Bozeman and work with kids in the foster system. Shortly thereafter, utilizing her years in the broadcast industry and work in nonprofit sector, became the National Media and Outreach Coordinator. Additionally, she is the lead on the TMP newsletter Holding Spaces and the Annual Foster the Rise 2-Fly Tournament.

For 'work' Mollie is the Director of Conservation and Education for the Sweetwater Fly Shop in Livingston, Montana. It’s no surprise that in her off time you’ll find her off on a fishing adventure locally or regionally.

Beyond the Fly Rod, Mentorship

Thank you to our friends at Casting for Recovery for spotlighting TMP in a recent blog post. We are grateful for the shout out and urge you to read more about them and the amazing work they do with women who have or have had breast cancer.


This week we’re learning about The Mayfly Project, Co-founders Kaitlin Barnhart and Jess Westbrook, weigh in on the importance of mentorship.

Mayfly Project Co-founders, Kaitlin Barnhart and Jess Westbrook

Mayfly Project Co-founders, Kaitlin Barnhart and Jess Westbrook

The gift of a fly rod continues to hold its value for years to come, but the gift of mentorship is a priceless gift with the ability to impact a person for their lifetime. Humans need connection, they need to know people are willing to step in, hold space for them, and lead them to places where they will find rest and recovery.

As founders of The Mayfly Project, we have found mentorship to be the best tool for supporting youth in foster care. Among the 250 mentors on our teams, many of them serve in other fly fishing communities and nonprofits, such as Casting for Recovery, Trout Unlimited, and Project Healing Waters. We’ve found that our mentors volunteer because they care deeply about leading others to the sport of fly fishing, and they believe in the healing powers of river-time.

Here are some unique ways mentors provide value to mentees beyond a fish in the net.

Mentors teach freedom– Whether it’s a young teenager who is trying to find a way to recover from trauma, or a woman who has just realized she has more life to live and wants to live it bigger, it takes mentors to lead these people to the rivers. Mentors are the training wheels needed to build the confidence in the mentees we work with–so that they can learn what they are capable of, and can find their new self through these adventures.

Mentors teach mentees their value– When mentors give their time, their entire weekends, or even their favorite stretch of river to a mentee, they are non-verbally speaking love into that person’s life. With our population of foster children, the more love in action, with little words needed, the longer-lasting the impact for our youth. They see us step in, and give our time for them. Sometimes the kids we mentor are surprised that we are there just for them–which tells them they matter in a world where they are often left behind. Beyond The Mayfly Project, we know that any mentor that gives their mentee the best stretch of water, or forgoes a day of fishing to help others, is showing what their time is worth. And to some, it can be a message that is truly needed at that time.

Seattle Mayfly Project. Photograph by Meryl Schenker

Seattle Mayfly Project. Photograph by Meryl Schenker

Seattle Mayfly Project. Photograph by Meryl Schenker

Mentors teach a cycle of healing– Many participants, or mentees, in therapeutic fly fishing programs are at a place where they have nothing to give. They come to the program worn out, struggling to find their life-balance, and they put their trust in mentors to teach, provide hope and fun. Once the participant has found their bearings in life, because of their experiences with their fly fishing therapy-driven program, they always want to give back. Once you have been lead to the water, you want to lead others to the water–it’s an important cycle that isn’t often acknowledged. In the fly fishing community, we value leading others to the sport to teach conservation efforts and to ensure a love of rivers will continue on beyond our generations. Mentorship is the gasoline to the engine of a cycle of healing humans, and healing our rivers.

The list of reasons mentorship can change lives is long, and so is the list of all the reasons we need to celebrate all of our volunteers, who continue to give and to raise funds for our fly fishing therapeutic nonprofits, and lead others to our sport. We always say, “It takes a village,” because it truly does take a village of humans who care about others and about leading them to these sacred river places.

TMP Mentee Curriuculum

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We are very excited to unveil yet another new program for our kids, the TMP Mentee Curriculum.  This curriculum details all parts of our program, teaches our mentees all about fly fishing and conservation. It has a unique section that directs the children in our program to notice the mental health qualities that fly fishing and time in nature provides.

Within this curriculum, our mentees can learn how to tie flies, which correlates with our Art of Tying program. We have special Vimeo videos of these tying steps created by professional tier Tim Camnisa, of Trout and Feather, made specifically for The Mayfly Project.  Additionally, it details all parts of our program, teaches our mentees all about fly fishing and conservation. It has a unique section that directs the children in our program to notice the mental health qualities that fly fishing and time in nature provides.

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Artist, Karl Schwartz, of Bozeman Creative, took Tim's work and made the tying steps into pictures. We can't wait for our mentees to use this curriculum and videos to tie flies!

We know this curriculum will continue to impart truths into the lives of the kids we are honored to serve, beyond their time with The Mayfly Project.

We are grateful to the companies and individuals who contributed to support the curriculum.  100% of the donations made went to fund the project paying for artwork, printing and shipping.

Presenting Sponsor: Smith Fly

Supporting Sponsors: Cortland - Women, Wine & Waders - Fin & Feather Flies - Damsel Fly Fishing - Next Step Innovation - Riggs Cat - Rods, Reels and Heels, Stickers That Stick, Sweetwater Fly Shop.

Donors: Arkansas Fly Fishers, Asmus Farm Supply, Billy Kay and Holden Asmus, Christine Atkins, Jaired Budd, The Dornsblaser Family, Robin Greenslade, The Hawk Family, Jay Langston Family, Tillman Pittman, River Valley Horticulture Inc., Caryn Rodman, Erin Schwartz, Mollie Simpkins, Carmen Weyland, The Woodward Family, Zachary Yauch.

Meet Heather Sees

National Fundraising Coordinator - Bellefonte, Pennsylvania

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Heather was born and raised in a very small town (Kushequa) in Northwest Pennsylvania. Growing up she spent the summers with her family spin fishing the small creeks in the Allegheny National Forest.

Heather’s passion/obsession for fly fishing developed shortly after moving to Colorado in 2011. While living there she became very active with Colorado Trout Unlimited serving as the President of The Greenbacks and sitting on the board of Colorado Trout Unlimited. As part of this role, she spent the majority of her time and focus on engaging, educating and empowering the younger generation to become our next conservation stewards.

In 2017 Heather discovered The Mayfly Project and thought it would be the perfect opportunity to tap into existing Trout Unlimited resources all while sharing her passion with a group of kids who may not have the opportunity to get out on the water. Heather joined TMP as the Denver Lead Mentor and shortly after kicking off the Denver project joined Jess and Kaitlin as the National Fundraising Coordinator. In Heather’s role, she works with our projects across the country to develop a local fundraising plans while engaging the local communities. Heather has since moved back to her home state of Pennsylvania and is helping to bring The Mayfly Project to her hometown!

Beyond The Mayfly Project, Heather holds an Accounting degree from Penn State and works on the Finance team of an International organization. In her free time, you can find her exploring her new home waters and those small creeks she grew up fishing in search of wild trout!

TMP Activity Reward Buttons

The Mayfly Project has developed a reward system where our kids can earn buttons by completing tasks throughout the project.  Kids can also proudly display these buttons on their drawstring backpacks to show their achievements and progression through the project.  This will the goal to build self-esteem through achieving goals, and to help youth stay focused on the TMP goals. Instructional and interactive - what a great way to keep kids engaged and excited.

Just check out the cool buttons they can earn!

Casting Button - Way to Earn – Casting a Yarn Fly in a hula Hoop.

Catch and Release - Way to Earn - Catching and Releasing a Fish Or Demonstrate how to properly hold and release with a plastic fish.

Keep our Rivers Clean - Way to Earn - Pick up 3 items of trash during a fishing outing.

Aquatic Invasive Species - Way to Earn - Complete AIS game.

Knot - Way to Earn - Demonstrate a proper Clinch, Surgeons, Uni or other knot used in fly fishing.

Fish On - Way to Earn – Kids get these on their last session with their gear. The kids will also leave with gear so they can continue to fish or “fish on”.

Fly Tying - Way to Earn - Tie a fly (simple or complex does not matter). Fly does not have to be pretty. 😉

Entomology - Way to earn – Turn over a rock in the stream and identify a bug on the rock.

Safety - Way to Earn - This button is given when a child is wearing their glasses without having to be told.

The Art of Tying

We are very excited to be launching a new program for 2019, The Art of Tying. With the support of the Windgate Foundation, art by Karl Schwartz of Bozeman Creative, Design by Niki Cousins, and TMP specific tying videos, created by professional tier, Tim Cammisa of Trout and Feather, we are ready to teach our mentees the meditative art of tying! Also we would like to thank Ballistic Bugs Custom Flies for providing the fly tying materials!

Mentees receive these pre-packaged supplies, with instructions on the card inside, and they learn to tie with their mentors. These skills help the children with learning patience, building self esteem, and create moments for them to find brain rest from anxiety and think about the big fish they will catch with their own fly.

Meet Kaitlin Barnhart

Kaitlin Barnhart - Co-founder - Coeur d’Alene, Idaho 

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Kaitlin Barnhart is the Co-Founder of The Mayfly Project. She joined Jess and Laura Westbrook in 2016, to help bring TMP to the national level and establish a universal program to support children in foster care across the country.

Kaitlin grew up fishing with her grandparents and camping with her family in Northern California and Northern Idaho. She spent her time in college at Pacific Lutheran University, playing volleyball and working for Child Protective Services and Juvenile Detention of Tacoma, WA. She worked for the Panhandle Forrest Service, conducting stream surveys for bull trout habitat restoration projects during the summers.

After she received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology, Kaitlin headed to Alaska to work at a sportfishing lodge and fell in love with fly fishing. During this time, she learned how to use fly fishing specifically to decompress from a stressful year working with troubled youth in Tacoma.

Her dream quickly developed in 2004, of using fly fishing as a tool to support youth in foster care in healing from trauma, finding mental rest, and connecting to nature. So when she began her career in the mental health field, she always found opportunities to take youth fly fishing or to connect with the outdoors, with the long-term goal of eventually starting a non-profit to support her ideas.

Once Kaitlin gained her bearings after building her family with her husband in North Idaho, Kaitlin started to take foster children fishing more regularly and eventually connected with Jess of TMP in Arkansas. After Kaitlin and Jess started talking about the similar ways they were using fly fishing to mentor children in foster care, they decided to partner up and develop the national TMP program.

Beyond The Mayfly Project, Kaitlin is a freelance writer, published in several fly fishing publications, and enjoys time fishing year-round with her family in Idaho. She dedicates her success to her mother, Stacey Calvert, who taught her how to 'hold space' for those who need love and support most.

SaraBella Fishing and The Mayfly Project Partnership

“We believe that water heals, and that getting kids outside, learning skills, and finding joy can be transformative in many ways. We also believe that children are resilient, brave, and beautiful from the inside out. By connecting kids with mentors, fresh air, camaraderie, and the challenges (and thrills!) of fishing, there is hope. We are thankful for the amazing work that The Mayfly Project does for foster children and proud to announce our commitment to support their efforts across the country,” April Archer, SaraBella Fishing.

When The Mayfly Project national program first developed, Founder, Jess Westbrook, and Co-Founder, Kaitlin Barnhart spent hours on the phone, talking about the value in the gift of a fly rod and that by  introducing youth to rivers we are leading them to a positive place in this difficult world. So when the TMP team first met April Archer, CEO of SarahBella Fishing, the conversations about using fly rods to help improve lives and to give greater purpose, were right in line with their developments with TMP.

“We appreciate SaraBella Fishing’s unique business goals where they create “smart beautiful” fly rods that perform with excellence and are made with purpose, while also supporting nonprofits that are improving lives through fly fishing,” Kaitlin said. Each SaraBella rod is hand crafted in Colorado, by survivors who have endured some of life’s most wild challenges. They value grit, passion, the environment, and the power of positivity. They care about the watersheds of our planet and the humans that depend on them. They strive to make excellent products that make profound impact.

It’s no wonder when April Archer, CEO of SaraBella Fishing April Archer, learned of the important work of The Mayfly Project, she knew that TMP would be a non-profit her company would support in several ways. April said,

I recognize that foster care serves children in a time of transition. I know that all transitions, be it seasonal, developmental, or circumstantial, can be incredibly challenging. One of my dearest friends is a foster Mom. I have witnessed the joys, the challenges, the heartache, and the beauty of their foster care experience. I have seen the positive effects of fresh air, hikes, and outdoor adventure on this population specifically. I believe wilderness not only provides adventure, it also calms, inspires, and brings hope to foster children. We are thrilled to support such important work.”

This unique collaboration began over five years ago, as both SaraBella Fishing and The Mayfly Project were emerging linearly, and now have partnered together to make an even bigger impact on their communities. Here is a Q&A with SaraBella Fishing CEO, April Archer, and TMP Co-Founder, Kaitlin Barnhart, to explain the uprising of this new partnership and the plans they have for it.

Q and A Parallel:

How did SaraBella and TMP cross paths? Tell us why you’re excited about this SaraBella and TMP Partnership?

April Archer:

I met Kaitlin via social media several years ago. Our first phone conversation was genuine, action-oriented, and full of great camaraderie. Kaitlin has written a couple blogs for SaraBella Fishing, and we have supported each other through life’s ups and downs -- both personal and professional. We cheer for each other’s success, and we pray for each other’s children. We also love to fish -- in wild and chaotic ways -- with our friends, families, and communities. I admire Kaitlin’s ability to write, to share stories and experiences, so that more human may experience fly fishing in fun and refreshing ways. She is an incredible woman, mom, leader, and activist. She makes big impact every day. Over the years, we’ve witnessed the evolution of SaraBella Fishing and The Mayfly Project. I love what this organize does and the people who make it happen. It’s a natural fit for SaraBella to collaborate with The Mayfly Project, and we look forward to continued impact (and adventures!) ahead.

Kaitlin Barnhart:

I met April through Facebook around 5 years ago, I believe after she read one of my strange blog posts about mixing motherhood with fly fishing. Once I read up on SaraBella Fishing I was enthralled with their mission and felt it was so needed in the fly fishing industry, but I had no idea I would end up talking to someone who mirrored my passion completely. Our first phone call was well over an hour long--I remember soaking up every word she was saying, thankful to have met another woman in the fly fishing world who truly understands the therapeutic value in fly fishing and who genuinely cares about taking care of people through river adventures. Since then, I’ve appreciated April’s friendship greatly and I’m always  inspired by April and how hard she works to build her company with human-focused goals, her influence on women joining the sport of fly fishing, while she also juggles motherhood and her own fly fishing addiction.

I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to collaborate with April and receive support from SaraBella Fishing because their mission aligns perfectly with TMP-- we both strive to improve the lives of people and believe that we can lead people to the rivers through the gift of a fly rod, and there is healing that takes place in the process. Just listening to April talk about how passionate she is about supporting non-profit work and giving back to local communities, is inspiring to us. We are excited to see what we can do together.

Tell us some important facts in your industry about the value of the gift of a fly rod.

April Archer:

The gift of a fly rod is a gift of adventure and love. Giving a SaraBella fly rod is truly special. It will be made in Colorado, by the hands of Survivors, with carefully crafted excellence.SaraBella Fishing is the only woman-owned fly rod company that focuses its outreach, education, and product development on serving the female anglers. We sell to and support ALL anglers, and we love bringing more women/girls into the sport.

Kaitlin Barnhart:

Jess Westbrook and I not only deeply understand the importance of giving the gift of a fly rod to foster children, but we have been able to experience, several times in the last three years, the thrill, their boost in self-confidence, the new ways the youth we work with are starting to see themselves and how they view the environment--all from an experience with a fly rod. In 2018, and because of essential partnerships in the fly fishing industry, community and beyond, we have mentored and gifted over 100 fly rods to youth in foster care.

What many people don’t understand is that foster youth rarely get an opportunity to spend time in the great outdoors, unless they are placed with foster families that value these experiences. We have to work hard to get approval to take these youth out to the rivers, but when we see them catch their first fish, or not worry about where they are going next for a bit, we know the gift of a fly rod is so essential for foster youth specifically.

We are thankful to partner with so many companies that understand the gift we are providing and who want to join us in not only leading more youth to the sport, but creating future conservationists who value outdoor environments.

What do you hope to impact from this collaboration? In what ways does SaraBella or The Mayfly Project fill a gap in their industry?

April Archer:

We recognize the importance of inclusivity and bringing youth into the sport of fly fishing. We believe in making excellent products that ALSO make a positive impact. We hope that more foster children will gain access to fly fishing as a tool for healthy, positive living.

Kaitlin Barnhart

According to Outdoor Industry current stats on angling, “More than 80% of millennials live in cities and are more disconnected to than ever before. However, Millennials who have found a connection to public lands express a strong desire to continue their connection and advocacy, something that will be critically needed if we are to protect and enhance these places for future generations.”

We know that if youth have positive experiences in the outdoors, it opens up a new world for them--to a place where they can not only find healing in their own lives, but find a connection that they will want to care for in their futures as well. The Mayfly Project is unique because we are introducing a population to the outdoors that would most likely never get this opportunity otherwise. We are using the rivers to help youth, while also teaching them how to help the rivers.

SaraBella is so unique in that they create custom fly rods that have a human-focused footprint on them. They employ veterans to build rods, they give back to those who need healing, such as women battling breast cancer or foster children dealing with PTSD. SB’s business goals have always pivoted around helping their communities, and we are thrilled to have been chosen as one of the non-profits they want to support!

Plan for Partnership and Announcement:

SaraBella is providing consumers have the option to purchase a rod or a gift certificate for a loved one and choose TMP to receive $75 with every rod sold. The give-back code is: SB-TMP75. SaraBella is also committed to working with TMP to help provide education, support, and provide more opportunities for youth in foster care to experience the great outdoors.

Please help us thank SaraBella Fishing for their support and for helping The Mayfly Project hold space for youth in foster care in 2019 and beyond!