Hometown: West Branch, Mich.
Hometown Chapter: Ogemaw Hills Gobblers Chapter
NWTF member since: 2003
A retired schoolteacher, Dillon continues to educate and nurture youth by coordinating JAKES events. "There's nothing greater than seeing a young person learn how to do something that they've never done before," she says.
NWTF: Tell us how you got started volunteering with the JAKES program.
Karen Dillon: My local chapter was in need of a JAKES president, and originally my husband was going to do it, but I ended up taking the wheel. We work together on it, though. We work well as a team.
Karen Dillon bagged a Michigan gobbler that tipped the scales at a whopping 25 pounds, 11 3/8 ounces.
NWTF: What was it like when you coordinated your first event?
KD: I admit I felt a little overwhelmed. However, I didn't pick the best date, and there were some other community events going on the same day that caused some schedule conflicts. I learned from that, and I've also learned to ask for help. It's OK to realize we can't do it all by ourselves.
NWTF: And your event is getting bigger and better each year, right?
KD: Definitely. Last year, we had 154 kids, plus parents, grandparents, etc. This year, we're hoping for around 200 kids. We have a new location and some opportunities for additional things for the kids to do.
NWTF: That's great! So what type of fun activities do you have planned for them?
KD: We have things like BB guns, fishing, shotgunning, sporting clays, orienteering, making a turkey call, archery, laser shooting, etc. The laser shooting is sort of like a video game, so the kids are especially drawn to that.
We have a free lunch for everybody, including roasting hot dogs over a campfire. It's a lot of fun for everyone.
NWTF: That's a bunch of stuff packed into a day. You must have a big store of energy.
KD: It can be a lot of work, but it's so rewarding. A lot of kids don't have the opportunity to do this kind of thing, and we're proud to be able to provide it for them.
One participant who stands out in my mind is a 13-year-old girl who came to our event and had the time of her life. Both of her parents are disabled, so she doesn't get to do many outdoor activities with them. But they came and watched her, and they thought it was wonderful.
NWTF: That's got to make you feel good. So what advice can you offer to other volunteers who are coordinating NWTF outreach events?
KD: The best advice I can give is to get a lot of people involved. For instance, our chapter teams up with the local Optimists and Kiwanis clubs. Just ask people. If you're shy, learn to reach out and make that first step. You've got to get as many people onboard with you as you can. We have 75 to 100 volunteers helping at our event, and the excellent participant to volunteer ratio helps big time.
Make it fun in order to get them to come back. Also, try not to hold too many meetings. I don't want this to feel like a job for people; I want them to enjoy it.
NWTF: Super advice, Karen. What keeps you so motivated?
KD: My husband and I believe that parents need to emphasize to their children that learning about the outdoors is important. They don't have to be the best shooter or the best archer or whatever, but they at least need the opportunity to try it.
There's nothing greater than seeing a young person learn how to do something that they've never done before. For instance, the look of accomplishment on their faces when they learn how to hold a shotgun and shoot it properly. I spent my career teaching young people. Kids want to do well, and potential volunteers need to be aware that they can help these kids in enormous ways.
NWTF: Many hunters are wondering how to get more young people involved in the outdoors, and volunteering at a JAKES event is a great way to start.
KD: You bet. Also, this isn't something that has to take up a lot of your time if you don't want it to. We have some volunteers who only help once a year. Your local NWTF chapter will be glad to have whatever help you can offer. It's really something that everyone should experience.