Handicapped shut-ins can become Fish-Abled

By Susan Johnson
Copy Editor

Two Rockford residents were inspired by a recent fishing trip to start a new organization to help the handicapped get out and enjoy the outdoors.

Eric Fishe and Virgil Toepfer took note of the growing number of disabled people in our community, and they decided to see what they could do to help these individuals have a better quality of life. They also have a special fund-raiser event planned for Sunday, Sept. 9, to help get their project launched.

The Rock River Times spoke with Eric Fishe, co-founder of Fish-Abled, to find out how this unusual project got started and what their plans are.

“It actually first started with a friend of mine named Randy, on a fishing trip,” said Fishe. “He just had the time of his life. That was about a month ago. It is a very new organization … it was an eye-opener for us because of the realization that somebody who is captive all the time and coming out and catching fish — it was like a kid at Disneyland. He had the time of his life.

“I work for Rockford Paratransit,” Fishe said. “I drive handicapped people to their doctors’ offices, and I see the need is there. The only place they go is to the doctor. Christmas is just another day; the Fourth of July is just another day. They don’t have the means to get out. This foundation is trying to make outings possible for the handicapped so they have something to look forward to, to boost their morale. Basically, we’re going on fishing trips, but we will go on other outings, too, just to go to the park for baseball games — different outings.

“We are raising the money for a wheelchair-accessible vehicle — that’s our first priority,” Fishe said. “We have to get money to become a 501(c)(3) [organization]. I’ve been starting to get the word out. It’s tough at the beginning, but now my co-workers, family and people I drive for — I feel like it’s my calling to do this because I am in a unique position to drive people to appointments. I run across hundreds of people who are disabled on a weekly basis, so I have a unique position where I can reach out to them and make what started out with one fishing trip a contagious thing for many people.”

He and Virgil Toepfer are the founders; they now have four other members and are looking for more. They also need donations, not just money, but any kind of fishing equipment, any kind of lures and hooks. They would also like to take people on other types of excursions.

A benefit will be held for the new Fish-Abled Foundation from 4 to 8 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 9, at SM&SF Club, 1010 Sandy Hollow Road. Admission is $10, which includes your meal. There will be lots of great food, giveaways, a 50/50 raffle and a silent auction. Fishe added: “We’re raffling off a Toshiba laptop computer, a Blu-Ray DVD player, and there will be hundreds of other prizes. The first people who come in will receive two free Don Carter Lanes bowling passes. Don Carter’s has donated some passes to us.”

They hope the community will come out and support this new effort. “Our goal is to reach $25,000 to capture this much-desired dream,” said Fishe. “Remember, each donation will provide another person an outlet to escape their isolated environment and enjoy the excursions our charity has to offer.” They also appreciated the coverage by WIFR-TV.

For more information, call Eric Fishe at (815) 289-8385 or check out their Facebook page at The Fish-Abled Foundation.

From the Aug. 29-Sept. 4, 2012, issue

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