The teenage years are often associated with drama in a person’s life. After all, it is while a teen that all sorts of firsts happen and we really begin to take shape as an individual. The techno revolution hasn’t done all that much to squelch the average teen’s desire to have an opinion, exercise independence, and to let impulse take the reins on a regular basis. Being a teen still allows for freewheeling days amidst all the pressures of school, parents, friends, college applications, relationships, jobs, sports, and hobbies.
Twelve or thirteen is also when many kids pick up a fly rod for the first time. Right around then, motor skills team up with patience and concentration and, boom, a new fly angler is created! TU’s summer camps and academies are filled with young anglers of this age group and a little older, and it is becoming increasingly true that the twelve and thirteen year-olds can out fish and out fly tie many of the older campers. Each summer, nearly three hundred teens literally get their feet for the first time in the sport of fly fishing, and their time at camp is also their first exposure to TU and its overall mission. Believe me, some of these teens live to fish, tie flies, and help save our streams and rivers. They are as passionate about the Complete Angler lifestyle as anyone else at TU.
But up until now, TU’s Headwaters youth staff had not fully engaged this important demographic. We had invested time, energy, and money into the Stream Explorers level of the youth membership (ages 5-12) but not so much the TU Teen level of the membership. We knew that we had three hundred or so new and interested anglers on our hands come every August, but beyond the free membership to TU, we were, unfortunately, not doing much else to keep them involved. They were drifting between the kids involved in our Stream Explorers program and the young adults in TU’s 5 Rivers College program.
TU’s Headwaters Youth program is built upon a model called the Stream of Engagement. We want young folks between the ages of 5 and 22 to find programmatic “side tribs” into the Headwaters. Whether it is through Adopt-a-Trout, the Scouts, Trout in the Classroom, TU’s Summer Camps and Academies, or the TU 5 Rivers program, our hope is that we get youth involved and committed, before moving them down the line toward lifelong leadership, membership, and stewardship within TU.
This model would never have worked without the TU Teens, which is why we held our First Annual TU Teen Summit in Pennsylvania this past August. We went straight to the source to ask opinions about membership, the Complete Angler, long-term involvement, teen lifestyles, and other topics. The Summit is the ever-important bridge event between the time that a fourteen or fifteen year-old learns to fish at a TU camp or academy, and the moment that same teen starts to fill out college applications and transition into TU’s 5 Rivers program. This is the event out of which TU’s new Youth Leadership Council was born: fourteen talented and dedicated teenage leaders who have already started planning TU Teen Summit 2013.
Along with this new opportunity for teen leadership is an enhanced TU Teen membership. New pages will be added to the existing and new websites, and staff will work with teen members to publish their voices on-line and in Trout magazine. We will continue to run a TU Teen essay contest and roll out a TU Teen photo contest in the spring. More attention will be paid to the role that these teen members play at the chapter level, with the hope being that many will find leadership positions that add new energy and insight. The Stream of Engagement will run from Stream Explorers at the very top of the watershed, down past the TU Teen years, and culminate in TU’s 5 Rivers College program.
Teen fly fishers are about as fired up and committed as anyone you know. They are the ones whose river and streams will feel the full brunt of climate change fifty years from now, so they take this work very seriously.
But above all, they are, hands down, a joy to work with and fish with. They want a place at the table, a hand in today’s and tomorrow’s TU. Stop and think about it: there is no one else but them. They are the future of this great organization.