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.