On Wednesday April 6, the non-profit organization On River Time will host an event on Ben Brown Plaza from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. to raise awareness for its mission and organization. Based in Birmingham, On River Time works with children’s homes in Alabama, Mississippi and Texas to offer support and scholarship for children who have experienced abuse or neglect.
“Our goal is to help empower children of abuse and neglect and help them to know that they are not defined by their past but have a future filled with hope, and we do this through life-affirming programming for them,” said Executive Director Wendy Garner, who has worked with On River Time since 2019.
This “life-affirming programming” includes the annual fly-fishing trips to Irwin, Idaho, at the beginning of the summer. On River Time sends children ages 12-17 from their children’s homes to The Lodge at Palisades Creek for a camp. They join two children’s homes together for each week of the trip, which gives the kids an opportunity to get to know teenagers from another place who have been through similar experiences as themselves.
“They feel comfortable and at ease, and they build close friendships immediately,” Garner said.
While at camp, students spend two full days fly fishing. Garner explained that Steve Davis, the founder of On River Time, is an “avid fly fisherman.” Davis, who was abused himself as a child, started taking children from the homes fly fishing 10 years ago.
“Steve was able to get so much healing and peace on the river, so that’s why it’s such an important part of (the trip),” Garner said.
The rest of camp includes whitewater rafting and a day trip to Grand Teton National Park, as well as many opportunities for the children to get deep with their mentors and adult chaperones.
“It’s really about speaking life into them while they’re at camp,” Garner said.
Samford student Scarlett Stearns was able to attend On River Time’s trip when she was 12 years old. Because of how the trip impacted her and her relationship with On River Time, she now goes on the trip as a peer mentor.
“When I first went on the trip I thought, ‘How could I benefit from fishing…. In Idaho?’” Stearns said. “I underestimated the whole experience. I describe being in the water as forceful rest; when you live a life full of chaos and uncertainty, rest is hard to come by. We know how powerful rest is and the healing it can lead to. On River Time creates an environment for a child to experience that.”
Other than the “Fish On!” camp, On River Time offers programs to those who have aged out of their children’s homes, many of whom are students at Samford, UAB and Jeff State. One such program is called SOAR, which stands for Success, Opportunity, Attitude and Resilience. Garner said that this program teaches students useful life skills “that they may not have had because of their background,” like etiquette, writing resumes and interviewing.
“We’re just trying to help them to be successful, whole, healed, independent adults,” Garner said.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and On River Time’s event at Samford on April 6 will contribute to that conversation about child abuse by giving attendees information on their mission and how they can be involved. The event will include fly fishing casting lessons, a door prize sponsored by retail company Orvis, and a time for community and conversation. All members of the Samford community are welcome to attend. For more information about On River Time, visit onrivertime.org.