Kirk Thomas, the original founder of Wheelin' Sportsmen of America, recently resigned his position with Wheelin' Sportsmen/NWTF to co-create Outdoors Without Limits (www.outdoorswithoutlimits.org) — an innovative, community-based, non-profit program providing empowering, life-changing hunting, fishing, shooting and other outdoor experiences for physically and mentally challenged people.
Thomas, Outdoors Without Limits' Chief Executive Officer, has been an active member of the outdoor community for three decades—the last 14 years in a wheelchair following an accident while deer hunting. He believes Outdoors Without Limits provides vital and unique outdoor experiences for the entire community--and fills a need for the differently-abled person to accomplish something special while connecting with others interested in the outdoors and share similar lifestyles.
"Outdoors Without Limits is based on the concept of a community-based chapter system that encourages the entire community to get directly involved in helping people in their own city or town," explained Thomas. Outdoors Without Limits events will not be just a singular experience but will be an opportunity for people, the disabled and volunteers, to be involved year-round in building relationships through outdoor activities that emphasize the personal experience for each participant.
"Our goal is to make people's lives better. We use the beauty, challenge and spirit of the outdoors to inspire, empower and motivate both the disabled- and able-bodied person," Thomas said. "What we're really doing is creating opportunities for differently-abled people to succeed at experiences many thought they would never have. And, at the same time, these experiences are a two-way street--the rewards for everyone who gets involved are immense."
Outdoors Without Limits is the outreach program of the Pursuing a Dream Foundation which was founded by Dave and Jane Owen of Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Owens worked for four years to overcome stereotypes and support the needs of disabled people in Western Michigan. After meeting Thomas they decided to take their dream national and launch Outdoors Without Limits.
"Outdoors Without Limits will change people's lives," said Dave Owen, National Outdoors Without Limits Board President. "Jane and I are thrilled to be part of this dynamic, new organization because we know it will break down barriers and have a positive, enriching impact on so many good people."
The program's mission is supported, and largely made possible, by volunteers who see how hunting, fishing, shooting and other outdoor activities improve life for the handicapped individuals who participate—creating excitement, raising self-esteem, hope and initiating a positive connection with the natural world. Local banquets, called an "Awareness Benefit and Dinner," help raise awareness in local communities of both the need for these special outdoor activities and the opportunity for caring outdoorsmen and -women to get involved, give something back to their community and make life better for deserving—and appreciative—individuals. The dinners also help raise the funds needed to conduct the outdoor events.
Outdoors Without Limits already has a staff of 10 Regional Vice President's, who collectively have over 100 years of experience and dedication to working with people with disabilities. In a few short months, they have recruited enough volunteers to form chapters that have scheduled over 100 Benefit Dinners for 2007 across the country.
"But," Thomas said, "We have only scratched the surface. There is a growing, nationwide need for more opportunities, more events, and chapters. We need people who understand how important it is to connect with nature and who also care about giving everyone a chance to experience the outdoors to consider how they can help…and then make some time to get involved with the Outdoors Without Limits program."
Those who care and want more information on Outdoors Without Limits events and how to get involved with these life-changing activities can log on to www.outdoorswithoutlimits.org, write to Outdoors Without Limits at 119 Calhoun Street, Johnson City, SC 29832; email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call Kirk Thomas at (803) 275-5635 (office); (803) 480-0167 (mobile).