In our first two installments of Operation Double Dip, we covered how Jim Dolan took a hobby and with a few dedicated friends, founded a non-profit that has a presence in 30 states today.
“We began with several like-minded folks, many civilians, who understood how powerful kayak fishing could be. They did it and realized that our veterans could benefit from the relaxation and camaraderie they enjoyed,” said Jim. “It just grew organically.”
In 2018, the organization officially added first-responders to our community. They were always welcome at events, particularly since many were veterans. It was an important initiative for Jim.
“They have many of the same difficulties our veterans do, just often over a 20-year career instead of a 9-month deployment,” says Jim. “One thing I’ve experienced is that EMT’s and combat medics are seeing some of the most horrific things. I was recently at an outing where an EMT joined us to try to help himself recover from seeing so many awful things. We were so glad he was there.”
From those early days where everything was grass roots, growing to a national organization is still surreal for Jim.
“It’s incredible to me that it’s gotten as big as it has and is as well run and effective as it is,” says Jim. “Something so simple is so powerful. It blows me away.”
Recently Jim attended an event in Pennsylvania and noted that how some things never change.
“Just like when we started out, they rafted up and started talking. There were about 150 people at dinner, and people just started building a rapport. A bunch of guys and gals with like experiences talking and harassing each other.”
Support Building HOW Nation
Heroes on the Water has an opportunity to support men and women, and their families, around the United States, and particularly in North Texas where we are headquartered. According to Joe Winston, Operations Manager, growth is an important initiative and we must continue to launch new chapters.
“We still have heroes silently suffering, battling depression, anger and loneliness. All of these can be addressed by being outdoors,” says Joe. “Our program offers the opportunity to do just that with family, brothers and sisters in arms, creating an environment that builds friendships while experiencing a sense of wellness. For many it’s the first time they have felt a sense of peace in months.”
Joe has been with the organization since the very early days, first as a volunteer and now as a member of the support staff. He is passionate about kayak fishing as a wellness therapy because he has seen it work many times.
“Right now, there is someone having a tough time. Had they been able to experience a HOW event with their family, they might have that to fall back on. Or if they could look forward to one coming up that could get them through the week.”
Joe, having experienced first-hand the effect of HOW’s kayak fishing outings, understands why they have such an impact.
“After my first outing I was exhausted, but in a good way. I felt like I was king of the sea. I would challenge anyone from any background to try kayak fishing, or at least try kayaking. You can access areas of the outdoors even in your own community you cannot get to otherwise. It’s a powerful feeling.”
Joe is responsible for onboarding new chapters for HOW, something the organization does very well.
“We work with our new chapter leaders to start a chapter that fits their community, while ensuring they are successful,” says Joe. “It starts with four passionate people who are willing to give back to our veterans, first responders and their families.”
Starting a new chapter also relies on the community to rally behind our people.
“You need someone who can help you out with buddy kayaks, whether they are loners from individuals or test kayaks from retailers,” says Joe. “Getting people to help out with food is a big help. Then you start taking a few people kayaking.”
Safety is always a number one priority within the organization, so Joe recommends the leadership team become comfortable with kayaking first, then hold their first outing.
“You don’t need to know how to kayak – we can teach you. You don’t need to know how to or even like to fish. That’s part of the bonus but not mandatory. You just need to be passionate about giving back to our warriors who served abroad and at home,” says Joe.
Heroes on the Water has more than 60 chapters, so aligning with an existing chapter also helps our new chapters gain solid footing. The main criteria is the desire to support our veterans, first responders and their families through outdoor wellness, and a love of the outdoors.
Why HOW Nation Matters to Your Community
As Jim Dolan says of our veterans “They come home alive. We bring them back to life.”
Yes, we are having fun. Our veterans, first responders and family members deserve to have fun, just like anyone else. The most important part of HOW Nation is we save lives. We help our warriors return to a more positive way of life. We reconnect heroes with their community.
Consider giving to support HOW Nation in building a new chapter to serve the many men and women who have served and continue to serve our community.
*Photos by Joe Winston Photography