When Tim Davis went to a Tallahassee hospital for treatment on his injured knee, it changed his life in ways he never could have imagined.
That visit led to the future teacher sharing the lessons of the outdoors with youngsters who would otherwise might never have an opportunity to catch fish or take wild game.
Whether they’re reeling in a tarpon or shooting a wild turkey, the outings are a thrill for the kids and for Davis.
“You get to experience it for the first time all over again,” said Davis, 39, who started tagging along on hunting and fishing trips with his father, Bob, when he was a young boy.
An economics teacher at Cardinal Gibbons High School in Fort Lauderdale, Davis works with the United Special Sportsman Alliance. The USSA website, childswish.org, describes the organization as an all-volunteer “non-profit wish granting charity that specializes in sending critically ill and disabled youth and disabled veterans on a free outdoor adventure of their dreams!”
USSA founder Brigid O’Donoghue provides Davis with the names of kids from all over the United States, many of them ill, some in wheelchairs.
“I’ve taken 75 kids to date,” Davis said. “Sixty-eight are no longer with us.”
Davis took his first trip with an ill youngster while he was a student at Florida State University. When he went to a local hospital for his knee injury, he met a boy with spina bifida and they struck up a friendship.
On another visit, right after a duck hunt, Davis was wearing camouflage and the boy said, “Mr. Tim, I’d love to go hunting.” So Davis arranged a hunt, and the kid, who had never hunted before, shot a big white-tailed deer.
“I was hooked for life,” Davis said.
After being hired at Cardinal Gibbons, he became involved with the African Safari Club of Florida and its young hunter training program.
Each year, the club has a fund-raising dinner and auction to pay for its conservation efforts. They include the club’s youth program, which teaches teenagers about conservation, firearm safety, hunting and wilderness survival and lets them shoot a game animal.
“Tim is the most safety-oriented person you will ever meet,” said fellow club member and youth program instructor Wilkie Gilbert. “He corrects me, and I teach it. And he’s phenomenal with the kids. He’s the teacher’s teacher.”
Inspired, Davis decided to put together trips for kids with health issues like his friend in Tallahassee.
He pays for all of the USSA trips that he arranges at places such as the Wallace family’s Fox Brown Outfitters in Indiantown, where the kids can shoot axis deer, red deer, wild hogs, wild turkeys, quail and doves.
“Chelsea Wallace opens the door for me and says ‘have at it!’” said Davis. “I couldn’t do it without places that allow it.”
Davis raises money for the hunts and fishing trips through events like his Fish Fry at Cardinal Gibbons.
Three weeks ago, the seventh annual event raised $14,000 thanks to a menu that featured shrimp pasta, fried catfish, snow crabs, beverages and dessert, as well as a raffle and silent auction. Students wearing T-shirts that said “Giving the Gift of the Outdoors” received community service hours for working the event, which Davis said has the blessing of Principal Paul Ott.
“He’s been my mentor in the classroom,” Davis said during the Fish Fry, “and he’s been my biggest supporter here.”
Davis also has “100 percent support” from his wife, Erica, who teaches math at Cardinal Gibbons and is used to him not being around most weekends.
If he’s not taking out kids, Davis takes paying customers on bass trips and deer, hog, turkey and duck hunts through his guide service, Gladesman Outfitters (gladesmanoutfitters.com). Fifteen percent of his proceeds go to take out his USSA kids and their families.
More than just about killing animals or catching fish, Davis makes every trip a lesson about fish and wildlife and their habitats.
“The one thing I try to instill in people,” Davis said, “is you have the opportunity to make the outdoors a little better.”
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