Greenwood, S.C., Man Receives National Volunteer Award
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EDGEFIELD, S.C. - The NWTF JAKES event Dennis Waters coordinates has become so popular that it sometimes has a waiting list for as many as 150 spots in a relatively isolated region of South Carolina.
For the past 11 years, the Neil “Gobbler” Cost Chapter’s JAKES (Juniors Acquiring Knowledge, Ethics and Sportsmanship) event on the Greenwood grounds of FUJIFILM Manufacturing USA has drawn up to as many as 150 youth, several from a distance requiring at least an hour’s drive.
“About 1,500 kids or so have learned about shooting, hunting, conservation and our hunting heritage,” said Waters, the chapter’s JAKES coordinator and a FUJI employee. “So you know we have to have made some impact. That’s the biggest satisfaction I get from the event.”
Waters, who also organizes and participates in two other annual JAKES events, received the NWTF JAKES Volunteer of the Year Award Feb. 15 at the NWTF Convention and Sport Show.
“Dennis has spent an immense amount of time introducing hundreds of youth to the outdoors during his 12 years as a JAKES volunteer,” said Mandy Harling, NWTF JAKES national coordinator. “He shows exceptional commitment and leadership, always giving credit to the partners and volunteers who make the event possible.”
The NWTF JAKES program, open to boys and girls ages 5 through 17 (ages 13-17 are considered Xtreme JAKES and participate in more age-appropriate activities), introduces youth to the outdoor lifestyle and the importance of conservation. The only cost to participate is a $10 annual membership fee, which includes an annual subscription to JAKES magazine and a JAKES decal and membership card.
By receiving its fifth award as NWTF JAKES Event of the Year for 2012, the chapter earned a spot in the NWTF Hall of Fame.
The popularity and success of Waters’ event at FUJI, held every September, is easy to understand. The site on the FUJI campus is ideal for outdoor activities. Each year, Waters and his chapter offer a handful of compelling stations.
At the 2012 September event, activities included shooting in the JAKES Take Aim portable range, archery and BB gun stations, a fishing simulator from the S.C. Department of Natural Resources and planting food plots under the supervision of the USDA Forest Service.
At perhaps the most popular station, youth dressed in camouflage hide in the woods while others try to find them, demonstrating how animals adapt to their habitat. They also got an up-close look at reptiles, including alligators and venomous snakes.
Generous contributions by the Neil Cost Chapter, FUJI and other sponsors have added to the success of the event. The names of two participants are drawn out of a hat for a free “Hunt of a Lifetime” on prime hunting ground in the S.C. Lowcountry.
“We’ve never had trouble filling the event,” said Waters. “We are keeping it small enough where we could put enough focus on it and do it right.”
Still, Waters said there’s plenty for him and his 40 volunteers to do, preparing for and then managing the event.
“It’s a lot of work and there’s a lot of pressure,” he said. “You hold the happiness of 100-something youth in your hands and you want to do it right.
“I dot every ‘I’ and cross every ‘t’ driving people crazy, but without our volunteers it wouldn’t be a success.”
For the past few years, Waters also has supervised a JAKES hunt at the Greenwood County airport.
Waters’ involvement with JAKES came about largely because of his job. Twelve years ago, FUJI approached NWTF national headquarters, about 40 miles south of Greenwood, about sponsoring a JAKES event on its land.
Each year at the chapter JAKES event, Waters can see progress on the food plot - more than an acre in size - where JAKES have planted. He would love to see similar growth among the participants in future years.
“The hope is some of the youth at our events will be running the event down the road,” he said.
The NWTF’s JAKES program, which provides outdoor opportunities and conservation education to youth, is one of three major NWTF outreach programs focused on increasing the number of hunters, thus helping to preserve our hunting heritage. The others are Women in the Outdoors and Wheelin’ Sportsmen.
The NWTF, a nonprofit organization, is the leader in upland wildlife habitat conservation. Through dynamic partnerships with state, federal and provincial wildlife agencies, the NWTF and its members have helped restore 17.3 million acres of wildlife habitat, investing $412 million.
Since the NWTF’s founding in 1973, the North American wild turkey population has increased from 1.3 million to 6.5 million with wild turkey inhabiting 99 percent of suitable habitat.