Project Healing Waters
“Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing has been a Godsend for me and my family,” reads one of the testimonials on the national nonprofit’s website. It continues: “I had become an agoraphobic and had some very extreme anger issues. This has always been a burden, not only to me but to my family as well. When I first heard of this project, I was a little reluctant to get involved, but when I did reach out, I found the respite I did not know was possible. Here, I found others who could empathize and relate to what I had gone through and what I was going through.”
The words come from but one of the many people helped by Project Healing Waters, which is dedicated to bringing fun and normality back to the lives of wounded military veterans through a unique twist—fly fishing. Through Project Healing Waters, not only are veterans able to learn how to tie a fly or how to cast a line, they’re also able to make lasting connections and help overcome their burdens through this therapeutic activity.
Founded in 2005, Project Healing Waters was created to serve individuals who were seeking care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, after having returned from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since the establishment of that original program, the organization has spread nationwide and can now be found in Department of Defense hospitals, Warrior Transition Units, and Veterans Affairs medical centers and clinics. Currently, Project Healing Waters serves more than 9,700 veterans in 225 programs in 48 states.
Beccy Fortin is a Bay Pines native who has been a Project Healing Waters participant for four years. Fortin initially turned to the organization to cope with her anxiety, and she now leads the Bay Pines program. Fortin grew up fishing but had never experienced the beauty of fly fishing until she got involved with the organization. Through Project Healing Waters, Fortin has been able to take part in two national fly fishing trips, one to Montana and the other to Key West. Fortin believes the trips couldn’t have come during a better time for her personal growth. Reflecting on her experience working with the program, she says, “They give you a positive attitude and a positive outlook. They’re always encouraging you to push yourself and to go further and to accomplish whatever you want.” In August, Fortin will lead her program in building the rods they’re planning to use for a national competition that Project Healing Waters puts on.
Sadly, last year during the height of the pandemic, Project Healing Waters in-person gatherings came to a halt, but they didn’t let that stop them. Members were able to take part in virtual activities and events, while still sharing that sense of community. After months of planning, in-person activities started up again in April.
Locally, there are two Project Healing Waters affiliates: a Panhandle program, whose office is located in Destin, and a Pensacola program. Veterans are eligible for free membership through their disability status. Meetings for both chapters are held at area sites on a regular basis each month.
To donate to or learn more about Project Healing Waters, visit projecthealingwaters.org.