Holding Space for Children in Foster Care

To hold space for someone means to stand in the gap where either someone used to be in their lives or where someone needs to be with them. Sometimes, it’s showing up to sit with a friend in mourning, or taking a child without an opportunity to go fishing to the river. We can’t think of a more underserved population in the USA that needs people to show up and hold space for them as much as youth in foster care. They need to know they are worth our time, they are not walking this difficult path alone, and that there are still good people in the world willing to help them through this most chaotic time in their lives.

The Mayfly Project is dedicated to holding space for youth in foster care because we understand their need for opportunities to disconnect from life’s stressors and to connect with the great outdoors. We don’t always know what the youth in our care have been through, and we may not always have the answers of what is happening next, but what we can do, together, is show up, be a positive light, and take them somewhere they get to just be a kid for a while.

We always say, “It takes a village,” when it comes to mentoring youth in foster care and working together to make what sometimes feels like the impossible, take flight. This year, we have so many success stories from youth being adopted, foster kids becoming fishing friends, young adults aging out of the foster care system and using a fly rod to cope, to mentors who are meeting up across the country because they have found a fly fishing family in The Mayfly Project. Together we have provided over 400 river experiences this year, and have given the gift of a fly rod to over 300 youth in foster care.

We believe so strongly that every child should have the opportunity to walk in a river and relish in the pride of catching a fish, that we’re saying yes to a possible 38 projects, for 2019, in 28 States, which is double the impact we had this year. We are committing to creating more biographical videos in order to assist youth up for adoption in finding a forever home, implementing new parts of our program that will encourage long-term growth and a long-term impact on the youth we mentor.

With almost 200 mentors across the USA, many fishing companies, private donors, Facebook fundraisers, grantors and those spreading the word about TMP, we are honored to take care of children in foster care with you. We ask that as you consider what your personal impact will be for 2019, you will continue to consider holding space with us, and helping us take care of youth in foster care-- to build a better future for a child and raise up a conservation-minded generation!

Thank you for holding space with The Mayfly Project!

~Kaitlin Barnhart, Co-Founder and Project Coordinator, The Mayfly Project 

Meet Jess Westbrook

Jess Westbrook - Founder - Benton, Arkansas 


Jess graduated from Ouachita Baptist University in 2008, with  degrees in Accounting and Business Administration, with an emphasis in Finance. 

Jess started fly fishing when he was six years old, but it was not until 2014 that it took on a new importance.  In 2014, Jess and his wife, Laura, had their first child, named Kase. Soon after, Jess started experiencing intense anxiety attacks, which he had never had before. In a six-month period, he lost 30 lbs., was missing work frequently, and distancing himself from loved ones.

 "A friend that I admired kept getting me out on the river and I found that when I was on the river I forgot about everything but fishing,” explained Jess. All his worries and anxious thoughts seemed to disappear as soon as he stepped into the water. “When we are fly fishing we are so concentrated on casting, mending, presenting good drifts, etc., that we forget about everything else around us," he said.

During this time, Jess was introduced to mentoring children in foster care through an organization at his church. The timing was perfect because he was looking for a way to give back to the community through fly-fishing, a sport that had helped him over some very tough hurdles.

Jess realized that not only could fly fishing help these the lives of children in foster care, but it would be an opportunity for them to get out on an adventure, which is something they don’t often get to experience.

Jess and Laura partnered with Kaitlin Barnhart in Idaho in 2016, who was taking children in foster care fly fishing as well, and found they had almost the exact same beliefs in why fly fishing is so important for foster children. During a most chaotic time in their lives, foster children could find an anchor in the outdoors and find home rivers even when they don’t feel like they have a home. From there, TMP National was born and took off across the country. 

Since then, Jess has welcomed his daughter, Kyle Illiana Westbrook into the world, and is expecting baby number 3 this Spring! He works non-stop to build TMP and we are so thankful to have such a genuine, hard working, humble leader, charging the way for children in foster care and conservation efforts across the USA.

It’s Not About Me

It seems there’s a rumor going around that I’m an exceptional person. Every time I mention to someone that I’m the Lead Mentor for The Utah Mayfly Project, I’m greeted with “What you are doing is amazing” and “You’re inspirational” and “You have the best hair.” (Okay. Maybe not that one. But I really want good hair.) My inbox has been flooded with over-the-top kindness from people telling me how incredible I am for doing this, and if truth be told, this causes all kinds of anxiety because I know the truth, and it’s time to let the masses in on it.

There’s a false belief that you must be some kind of “special person” to bring a child into your life that isn’t your own, like I must possess some above average ability to care for or connect with a child. While I covet every word of encouragement and appreciate the thoughtfulness, I can’t have people thinking I’m anything extraordinary. Because I’m simply not. I’m just one person trying to make a difference.

As excited as I am about mentoring fostering kids, they certainly aren't excited about being foster kids. My personal sense of excitement does not drive my efforts; their personal tragedy does. Heartache that has followed them most of their life is always on my mind. My desire to see good come out of bad, a willingness to embrace what is broken and do whatever it takes to bring healing is what drives me.

My point is, there is nothing special about me. I’m a little weird, messy, and sometimes I’m not overly friendly. I get aggravated. I get tired. I have both fear and faults. The only thing “special” about me is that I have the privilege of spending time with some AMAZING children, which would not have been possible if I hadn’t signed on as a mentor.

I get to spend time with children like Ms. Mariah…… a little girl who’s had a rough start in her short years on Earth. Mariah was born in 2009 and was immediately placed into the foster care system. When she was about a year and a half old, she was sent to live with Brian and Miranda S., her foster parents who happily agreed to take her into their home. Mariah was one of the lucky ones, as she was eventually adopted by her foster parents in 2011. Over the years, her adoptive parents divorced, but Mariah knew she was loved by both regardless. Unfortunately, on January 16, 2017, on Mariah’s 8th birthday, her mother passed away from ovarian cancer. Mariah has had a rough year, while her and her dad struggle to make a new life for themselves without Miranda. Mariah’s dad is an avid fly fisherman and a veteran. He knows the healing power fly-fishing can have on the soul, and is hoping that with The Mayfly Project’s help, Mariah will be able to heal a little more, giving her heart a chance to recover after the loss of her mother.

I get to spend time with children like Z…. a young teenage boy who has been in and out of foster care most of his life. At 14 years old, living in a treatment facility, Z has struggled with being able to control his emotions. I was told that at times, he can be somewhat volatile and aggressive, prone to violent, physical outbursts. We were told that he really struggled to express himself to others, and without the words or outlet to express his emotional pain, he resorted to “self-cutting”. We were told we would need to perform “hook checks” after each outing to ensure he hadn’t taken a fly to be able to injure himself with it later. Upon meeting Z, I was made aware of the remnants of past and present cuts, as evidenced by his inability to take off a long sleeve shirt in 95° weather because of the shame and embarrassment he felt from all the scars on his body, while fresh cuts were still bandaged. But what I also saw was a truly charismatic young man with an infectious smile. I saw a child who was eager to learn all he could about fly fishing and when instructed, was an absolute natural. I saw a Mayfly mentor develop a quick and heartful connection with Z, and upon asking Z what his high and low for the day was at the end of our last outing, he answered, “My high was that guy” (as he pointed to Danie, his mentor). Then, with a huge grin on his face, he said, “Man, I don’t have a low”.

So instead of focusing on me and what I’m doing, let’s focus on these children and what they are enduring and battling through every single day of their lives. THEY are the amazing ones! THEY are the ones who are inspirational. Celebrate the opportunity to open your hearts to kids in need, knowing that if it be for just a few days or (if you make that magic connection) maybe even a lifetime, you've been given the unique opportunity to offer them some things that are desperately needed - love, guidance, compassion, and attention.

                                                                                              by Verlicia Perez (Utah Lead Mentor)


The Mayfly Project's new Conservation Initiative!!!

The Mayfly Project’s Conservation Initiative

We are proud to announce The Mayfly Project’s new Conservation Initiative--we believe children in foster care need rivers and our rivers need a generation of conservationists. The Conservation Initiative is designed to provide an opportunity for our youth to be involved in caring for the river ecosystems they are privileged to enjoy, which creates a cycle of healing in not only the youth participating, but in the rivers we cherish. 
Why is teaching conservation to youth in foster care important?  The children we mentor are dealing with the results of a broken childhood. By providing time for these children to use their own hands to help heal a river system or to take care of a trout they catch, is instilling in them a cycle of something positive--they get to feel good about having a hand in making the world a better place. 
What is The Conservation Initiative?
We have added a designated Conservation Mentor for each of our projects to educate the children on how to care for their environment and for the fish they get to experience. The Conservation Mentor will teach these practices:

  • Catch and Release - Mentees are taught proper fish handling techniques and are educated on the value behind the practice of catch and release.   
  • Clean Rivers - Mentees will learn how to  leave the river better than they found it by picking up garbage and recycling the trash we find. TMP is Teaming up with Fishpond to provide all mentees with micro trash bins to keep our trash contained.  
  • Contamination - Scientists believe that aquatic invasive species are one of the greatest threats to America’s trout and salmon. We educate mentees about this expanding threat and develop appropriate “gear-hygiene” so that we do not contribute to the problem by providing wader and boot washing stations at every project. 

Join our efforts in taking care of children in foster care and taking care of our environment through our Conservation Initiative! All donations and funds from the conservation shirts purchased goes towards supporting this cause!
“Together in the water there is sweetness, hope, fearlessness, confidence, beauty, serenity, community, joy, poetry, opportunity, movement, patience, empathy, mystery, independence, and a new memory waiting. This is the opposite of the dry neglect, abuse, and decline of the past”. Dr. Wallace Nichols

A Priceless Bag of Coyote Hair - A Mayfly Project Outing, North Idaho, By Kaitlin Barnhart

You know you’ve arrived as a mentor when your mentees run to your car with a net in hand they made from a laundry bag and zip ties, and a ziplock baggie full of coyote hair. The 3, 14-year-old boys jumped in my car, eager to share their stories about how their neighbor saved their chickens from the villain, coyote. One of them said, “That’s pretty gross you want this hair”, and I told them, “Ya, fly fishing folk do some strange things with roadkill too -- keep your eyes out for a dead, red fox, boys!” They laughed, no doubt thinking they have never met a gal *that* excited about a dead coyote (I was more excited they thought about us and about river-time, actually).

We made the long drive to the river, chit chatting about starting high school in a week, playing
DJ on the radio, and swapping stories about our summers (I also learned cool facts like drinking Mountain Dew limits your sperm count and how to fatten a lamb for 4-H).

I had been gathering wading boots all through the last year, asking fly fishing communities to dig into their closets and pockets to help (THANK YOU!!). So when we parked, my fingers were
crossed, hoping that the boots I had would fit them; and miraculously, after they went through
the allotment, each boy ended up with a pair that fit! Woohoo!

Our new TMP mentor, Ben from Spokane, met up with us at the gas station and we cruised to a
part of a river that I thought would still be fishing well; only to find the water was hot and the
fish were easily spooked by 14-year- olds clanking around. It took them a while to remember how to cast and how to approach a fishy-section of the river. But I loved how they just took charge and picked their own flies and tied their own knots. “Trust your instincts,” we would say, and then we would resist the urge to take their fly rods and drift it how we had in mind. They missed about 4 fish slurping their fly, which was exciting for all of us. And they sometimes asked for advice, but otherwise felt like they had it.

But the day quickly heated up so we decided to head to another river close by. On our way
walking back up, I was feeling a bit discouraged because I had caught some huge trout in that
section a couple weeks prior and I so desperately wanted them to experience the tug of a big
Cutty. I heard one of the boys yell really loud so I ran over to see he found a bright red “lobster” aka, Crayfish. They all became river-explorers and lobster hunters for the last few river meanders. It reminded me that these days aren’t all about the fish sometimes. It was important to follow their lead instead of expecting them to be professional fishermen.

We drove for a while up a river (did I mention anytime we were driving or paused the boys were eating constantly? A whole bag of cheetos in a half an hour?!) and met up with another mentor, Matt, and continued to stalk trout. The boys casting improved after the first morning session, (it always amazes me how quickly these kids can learn).

We finally found some fish feeding in the afternoon, but right at that time we had several visitors with dogs show up at our fishing spot (grrrrr), and by this time a couple of the boys were somewhat worn out with fly fishing and became intrigued with searching for river animals anyways. We drove up further to just show they boys more of the river and the animal hunt continued. They found mussels, a giant dead trout, a bull frog, a tiny snake, a sculpin, and helped me knock a few piles of stacked rocks local “artists” thought would be cool to do in the river (bad for the bugs and river dynamics, don’t build these).

At one point, one of the kids was trying to catch as many lobsters as he could to maybe bring
home, and I was simultaneously trying to scare them away-- which lead to a great conversation
about the river habitats and the balance that depended on the critters that lived there (no lobsters were harmed during this phase, but I’m pretty sure an arm ended up in my car because it smells like more than 14 year old boys were there). We fished hard again for a bit and realized that the boys really just wanted us to walk the rivers with them.

At the end of the day we all learned some things-- I taught them to say, “Holy buckets of juice”
instead of other words they would accidentally say when they found something amazing for show and tell-- and they taught me that sometimes you just have to say ‘yes’ when they want to try to skip a rock through a fishy section, if that’s what they really want to do. Their favorite parts of the day were when we were just exploring together, when Matt let a lobster pinch him on the finger, when Ben caught a huge fish, and when I let them mix all of the various soda’s at Taco Bell and get donuts.

On the drive home I looked back at them a few times, feeling honored to have been a part of
their day. These are kids with big back stories, of really difficult things that most probably have
never even encountered, and things they are struggling with right now, but here they were,
freshmen in High School and ecstatic over being able to use their home-made net to search for
river creatures. I couldn’t help but smile, give their adoptive/foster mom a huge hug for what she has provided for these kids (she was so glad to have a day off too), and wish them well on their first week at school. We talked about next time, and I can’t wait for Fall to cool off our rivers so we can chase some big fish...or some tiny crawdads…. Even though I always leave feeling like I wish we could do more, I now that what we do is important. Adding to their positive-experiences-list is a gift.

Thank you for your support of The Mayfly Project-- leading children in foster care to the
outdoors through fly fishing! And thank you to Matt and Ben for making the long drive to support these children on the river. Email me if you have any questions about how you can become involved with TMP at kaitlin@themayflyproject.com 



TMP Nebraska founder Marissa Jensen's thoughts on mentoring

There is a healing property with water that has the potential to calm and the the soul. I have always had a deep love and connection with water for this reason. When I came across the website for The Mayfly Project, I knew I found the perfect fit to share my love for water and the outdoors while also providing guidance for others. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first joined The Mayfly Project. I knew that I wanted to become more involved in working with foster kids, but I was also excited for the opportunity to find other interested mentors in the area and build a bigger community of fly fishing enthusiast that enjoy giving back in the state of Nebraska. I was excited to provide an opportunity for foster kids that shows them how they can be successful in the outdoors or on the water, as well as provide consistency and companionship.

I must admit, I was a little nervous when I started with our first group of foster kids. I wasn’t sure how interested or engaged these kids would be. I kept thinking, what if they hate it, or they can’t catch a fish? What I found as a mentor is these kids just appreciate any time they get to spend with you away from their day to day lives. On our last outing, there was much more excitement over looking for macroinvertebrates than there was catching a fish. To be able to provide a sense of serenity and belonging for a child that might struggle with their place in this world is such a blessing.

The Mayfly Project is an incredible organization that I am so happy to be a part of. Knowing that I can help give these kids the tools to find their happiness and quiet during a busy or tough day truly fills me with joy. That smile they have when they land their first fish, or the laughs after they lose “the big one,” I hope it is something they will take with them for years to come, I know I will.

Marissa Jensen, Nebraska

Second Chance Ranch Last Outing

Our Second Chance Ranch last outing was this past weekend and we had an absolute blast.  All kids caught at least 4 trout!!!  We had 3 new mentors join us for this outing as always North Arkansas was so great to us - Lemleys Rock Cabins donated rooms for half of our mentors and the Kirby's donated their cabin for the boys and our new mentors.  

Of course the kids were stoked to walk into their cabin to find a new rod, reel, pack, flies, nippers, etc on their bed!!!  Nativ also stepped up really big by donating shirts, hats and water bottles for all the kids.  And Kroger kept us fed all weekend.

Super big thank you to all our partners for making this happen!!!!

Coming up in Arkansas - We are going to partner with Project Zero and Nathan Willis films to shoot another short film on February 4th!!!

Tight Lines


Last Outing for our Fall Second Chance Ranch Session

This weekend we will be headed to Dry Run Creek with 5 children we have been mentoring at Second Chance Ranch.  We are so excited for these kids - they will get their own fly rod, pack, fly box, leaders, indicators and nippers.  We will also be meeting up with 2 children that we have mentored in the past and we will have mentors working with them as well.  We are so blessed to have 3 new possible mentors joining us this weekend to see what TMP is all about!


Tight Lines,


Filming with Nathan Willis

This past weekend we were so excited to film a short film with Nathan Willis out of Little Rock Arkansas.  The film with feature two foster children Bella and Frankie.  The main purpose of the film is to try to find Frankie a forever home.

Bella has been fishing with us a few times so we thought it would be great to showcase her an experienced angler.  Bella did great she hung in there while we were filming in 30 degree weather and she also landed a 24" bow on camera!!!!

This was the first time we had met Frankie.  He was so much fun to fish with and teach.  Frankie caught two rainbows in probably an hour and a half.  I cannot wait for you guys to get to see Frankie!!!!!!

The film should be ready January 2017.   

From TMP we hope you guys have a Merry Christmas!