Mentoring foster children through fly fishing

The Mayfly Project is a non-profit organization that uses fly fishing as a catalyst to support foster children. The organization’s mission is to support foster children by using fly fishing to introduce them to their local aquatic ecosystems. The hope is that connecting participants to a rewarding hobby will give them the opportunity to have fun, feel supported, and develop a meaningful connection to the outdoors.

“I just did fly fishing for the first time and it was awesome,” Cameron, a participant in Project Mayfly, said in a testimonial video on the organization’s website. “I’ve been in foster care for four years and the reason I’m in foster care is because my family treated me badly.”

Dakota, another project participant, was in foster care for five years and wanted a permanent family to do outdoor activities with. Clayton said fishing and being in the water helped him forget about his problems for a little while. More than 420,000 children live in foster care across the country. Each year, 23,000 of them come out of the foster care system, which means they enter adulthood with little support – or love – to fend for themselves. Spending time outdoors with others while participating in an activity like fly fishing can improve physical and mental well-being while fostering a sense of community.

Kaitlin Barnhart, co-founder of The Mayfly Project and mental health professional based in northern Idaho, has personally experienced the benefits of spending time outdoors. She used fly fishing as a way to relieve the stress of her high-pressure career working for child protective services and juvenile detention. She started taking foster kids fly fishing in 2006.

“I realized that fly fishing not only provided mental rest, but it empowered the kids I worked with,” Barnhart said. “They were proud of themselves and felt good about what they were doing, which is so important for this particular population.”

Years later, she was scrolling through Facebook when she came across a logo designed by famed fly-fishing artist Andrea Larko. She felt drawn to the image and messaged Larko for more information. Larko informed her that it was for a man from Arkansas who was taking foster kids fly fishing. Barnhart immediately reached out because she was doing the same thing a few states away.

That man was Jess Westbrook. He had turned to fly fishing to manage the intense anxiety that had befallen him shortly after the birth of his son in 2014. Around the same time, he was introduced to mentorship. children in foster care through a church organization. This combination of mentoring foster kids while fly fishing made perfect sense for Westbrook. It was a way of giving back to the community through fly fishing, a sport that had helped him overcome very difficult obstacles. He recognized the potential that fly fishing had to support adoptive children through their own personal journeys.

Westbrook and his wife, Laura, started The Mayfly Project in Arkansas in 2015. The plan was to focus on his own community, taking local foster children fly fishing. When he contracted the services of Larko who brought together Westbrook and Barnhart.

The trio saw so much promise in the idea. With the Westbrooks’ background in business, finance and law combined with Barnhart’s background in mental health and youth leadership, they had the seed. Once they figured out how to move forward with establishing a dedicated network of community-minded fly anglers, there was no turning back.

The following year, after countless brainstorming sessions, hours of planning, clever coordination, and an untold amount of hope and enthusiasm, the Mayfly Project program was launched nationwide. Now the program is thriving across the United States, with event locations (called projects) stretching from the West Coast to the East Coast – and many places in between.

There are many ways to get involved with The Mayfly Project, including mentorship, donations, fundraising, enrolling a child, and more. For more information on how you can help, visit the website or social media channels.


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