The Spirit of the Woods: UFFDA
The room was gathered with assorted characters dressed in camouflage and drab, earthen clothing. Kind eyes greeted me as I was introduced to the group, followed by hearty handshakes. We shared introductions, which lead into some good laughs and identifying stories, building rapport and placing us in familiar situations and places of our shared history. I sat, listened, joked, and shared in the friendly ribbing as genuine bonds formed.
Through the background entered a lady who walked across the conversation and embraced Dan Hendricks. I could tell right away this was not a hug of greeting but of deep meaning. From audible sniffling and a tighter embrace, I could hear towards Dan a hushed, "Thank you." The room was silenced out of respect and the joking was paused. Hearts were heavy and compassionate nods were exchanged to her as she left the room.
Dan Hendricks of Greenwood, Minn. is president of United Foundation for Disabled Archers (UFFDA). He started UFFDA in 1995. Today (Saturday) marks the close of their 23rd hunt at Camp Wilderness Boy Scout Reservation, the original location. These hunters volunteer their time, equipment, resources and love of the woods to help 20 to 30 disabled archers engage in the sport of hunting whitetail deer. Dan stated that there are a lot more volunteers than hunters. Volunteers can be guides, cooks, coordinators, range masters, chaplains, runners and beyond.
Bringing the conversation around to a point, I asked Dan a pointed question as to why this is still important to him.
Dan slid a photobook to me, and said, "This is not just about the hunt; this is an annual family reunion. These people — from the guides, volunteers and hunters — are my family."
I turned to John Swanson, (founder, charter member, disabled veteran, range master, hunter and often a guide), from Sauk Rapids, and asked him the same question about why he was there. He explained the importance of him hunting with his father who is a cancer survivor, having the opportunity to give back and resounding that the people of the event are like family to him.
There was a lot of fellowship and love in the room. Breaking up the moment, an unfamiliar face walked in and introduced himself as Gerry Smoley of Nevis. Gerry has never been involved in UFFDA; in fact, he just moved to the area, so I took an opportunity let him answer the question of why he was here.
Gerry replied, "Just moved to the area and wanted to get involved in something. Based on what people said, I felt this was the right thing to do."
Concluding the interviews, John led me to his range and explained the safety and considerations they employ for hunters and guides setting the stage for a successful hunt. I wished them luck on the hunt.
That evening I pondered the importance of people like I met today. I admired Dan crediting his wife, Karen, as a saint and a special lady as she was involved in UFFDA and the mission. I was happy to shake their hands and meet the people that create experiences, looking for no credit for what they do.
That night I came home and was greeted by my middle daughter, anxious to talk to me. After qualifying what her mother had told her already, I asked what she would like to ask me. She said, "Dad, can I please go to Camp Wilderness this year and volunteer for UFFDA?"
My heart swelled with pride and I agreed. Julia was quickly off to pack for her weekend adventure.