Florida is home to beautiful weather, gorgeous beaches and copious amounts of sunshine. It is also home to nearly 3,000 members of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
Even though there are no wild, free-ranging elk in Florida, volunteers, like those in other states, raise funds to support RMEF’s mission of ensuring the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage. The money generated at banquets, fundraising drives and other events goes back on the ground in their own backyard to support conservation and hunting heritage outreach projects across the state.
One example is Idols Aside Ministries (IAM), a faith-based program in central Florida that works to alleviate the growing fatherless epidemic sweeping the country and the health and well-being challenges that kids face growing up without fathers. One way it does so is by offering outdoor and hunting retreats for at-risk and fatherless youth ages 11 to 17.
RMEF provided $3,000 in funding to IAM in 2019 to help construct a three-land, two raised stand archery range. The funding also purchased two 3-D archery targets (boar, hog and deer) and six youth scholarships. Thanks to an additional round of volunteer-generated funding, RMEF provided $3,000 more in 2020 for new blinds and additional scholarships.
“I cannot tell you the blessing that it is to watch a fatherless young man/lady step on property, to try new activities that they have never dreamed of trying, to be trained in a safe and proficient way, and then to have the opportunity to excel and potentially feed their family by harvesting their first animal!” said Jeffrey J. Shills of Idols Aside Ministries. “The joy and confidence when they leave is palpable! The parting question is always, when is our next retreat?”
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) certified Jeff Shills as a hunter safety instructor. That certification allowed IAM staff and volunteers to lead participants in the beginnings, ethics, laws and future of hunting in addition to meeting the requirements for the bow section portion of hunter safety certification.
“With strategic partnerships such as RMEF, FWC, and the NRA, we are being afforded the opportunity to continue to break down barriers that hinder these fatherless/at-risk youth from becoming lifetime hunters and outdoorsmen,” added Shills.
“What can you say but our volunteers go above and beyond in raising funds for opportunities and programs like this one that do more than just promote our hunting heritage,” said Brian Robinson, RMEF regional director. “They help make a real difference in these young folks’ lives.”