Empowering San Diego Urban Youth Through the Healing Power of Nature

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In the early morning chill before sunrise, a group of 13 Black youth and their families excitedly huddled together at the Seaforth Landing dock in Mission Bay, San Diego. They stepped aboard the New Seaforth, a fishing charter that would take them to their first deep-sea fishing adventure since last summer. For the members of the Blue Heart Foundation, a nonprofit organization that mentors and supports underserved Black males between the ages of 13 and 18, this early April trip would also be one of their first trips together since the recent passing of Tracy Morris, the founder and executive director of the Blue Heart Foundation.

Youth from The Blue Heart Foundation take a selfie before boarding the New Seaforth (USFWS).

Current President and CEO Mathew Gordon said, “This is the first time since Tracy’s passing that the boys are getting together like this. We see this as a healing trip not just a fishing trip.” Up until only a few days ago, these young men had no idea they would be embarking on a deep-sea fishing adventure. “Thanks to funding from the Friends of San Diego Wildlife Refuges, we were able to put this trip together,” said Ben McCue, executive director for Outdoor Outreach.

Once aboard the New Seaforth, the ship’s captain introduced himself and his crew, and ensured everyone on the boat had a bag tag for the day’s catch. The sun slowly rose over a mostly overcast sky as the New Seaforth motored out past Mission Bay, and with the coastline of San Diego in the distance, anchored at a prime fishing spot. The crew provided a fishing demonstration and showed the young men how to bait the hooks with either strips of squid or live sardines as bait. Upon anchoring, the youth and their families eagerly grabbed the fishing rods and choose between pieces of squid or live sardine bait. Some curious youth had the courage to grab the live sardines swimming in the bait tank; however, most opted for the easier route to handle squid bait.

From left to right, Johnathon Salmon, Djarese Blevins, Casey Jones, and Jayden Johnson practice catching live sardines from the bait tank (USFWS).
Michael Lazare, on the right, hooks squid bait. On the left, Program Director for the Blue Heart Foundation, Tammy Blevins, helps another youth hook bait (USFWS).

Along the deck, everyone had their lines in the ocean and were enjoying fishing. The boat crew walked around to demonstrate how to hook bait and how to cast a rod. The crew also explained how to feel for a bite and assisted with removing fish from the hook to place in bags according to bag tag numbers. As soon as the first cast was dropped, fish started to bite and excitement ensued.

One by one, participants were catching various species of fish like rockfish, whitefish, sanddabs and sheepshead. Some were lucky enough to pull two fish at once! Throughout the day, everyone helped each other with reeling in their catch or sharing the joy of catching fish and demonstrating the life skills of cooperation and teamwork as emphasized by the Blue Heart Foundation and Outdoor Outreach.

Ivan Turner with whitefish (Photo by Outdoor Outreach).
Nathan with a copper rockfish (USFWS).

Marcia, whose son attended the fishing trip, said, “I am glad that my son is part of this program. The Blue Heart Foundation takes these boys to participate in different outings; they get help with homework and applying for college.”

For community leaders like Gordon and Ben McCue, this fishing trip represents more than just an adventure, but an opportunity to inspire young Black men to “connect to possibility and opportunity in their lives,” explained by McCue. Gordon added, “Every single high school senior that is part of our program has been accepted to college.” Partners of the SoCal Urban Wildlife Refuge Project, like the Blue Heart Foundation, Outdoor Outreach and Friends of the San Diego Wildlife Refuges make it possible for many youth to experience a meaningful connection to the outdoors and nature.

After a full day out on the ocean, it was time to start heading home. The boat crew cleaned, filleted and bagged everyone’s catch. Conversations flowed all around about what an excellent day it had been. Once back on land, everyone joined into a closing circle and shared their highlight of the day. Some participants, despite feelings of seasickness, expressed how much they enjoyed being together during this shared experience. Many were grateful of the boat crew for making the experience pleasant and memorable and most of all, everyone gave thanks to Friends of the San Diego Wildlife Refuges, Outdoor Outreach, the Blue Heart Foundation and San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex park ranger Nancy Fernandez for making the event possible.

With smiles on their faces and an incredible sense of accomplishment, the group said their goodbyes until next time.

Partners of the SoCal Urban Wildlife Refuge Project got together with their organization members to go deep sea fishing off of the San Diego coast.

Story Tags

Connecting people with nature

Recreational Activities