December and the holidays have always been a time for me to slow down, look back at the past year, and start thinking about the promise of the new year.
As I think about WQW and 2022, I’m most grateful for two things.
The Impact WQW Has on Veteran Lives
First, I’m grateful for the blessing I have every day to see the impact WQW has on the lives of our Warriors and their loved ones. Our program evaluation report puts hard numbers on this impact –statistically significant data that quantifies how we change lives. In short, through WQW’s programming, Warriors find respite from stress, improved sleep, a stronger feeling of security, confidence solving problems, the ability to be more present, and a stronger sense of connection and purpose. But I’m still most moved by what our participants tell us about their experience with the WQW Family. Here are a few of my favorites from this year:
“Learning to fly fish was both amazing and comforting. The best part was catching a fish and letting it run to bring it in for the photo. The moment that you enter the water, you have no cares or worries in the world. It’s just you, the fish, and nature. It brings both excitement and the feeling that I can do anything. You all made sure this experience will be forever a part of the great memories in this life.” -Tracey
“A few times while floating, I found myself daydreaming and wondering what I should be stressed or worried about only to realize the answer was absolutely nothing. I was in a stunning location, without connectivity, surrounded by like-minded friends, and my mind was able to slow down and enjoy the peaceful serenity. After returning home, I have a better appreciation (and plan) for taking time for myself to disconnect and appreciate the healing benefits of mother nature and fishing.” -Sean
“WQW is not just an experience or a place. It is what happens when kind-heartened people with the warrior spirit take in other warriors whose wounds may not be seen by the eye but can be felt in the heart. They show them there is a way to find peace that doesn't involve chemicals or harming themselves but through connecting them with nature and other warriors. The experience is truly humbling.” -Aaron
How WQW Volunteers & Donors Make Our Mission Possible
The second thing I’m most grateful for is the opportunity I have every day to witness the generosity, care, and giving spirit of WQW volunteers and donors. Our Volunteer Moms and Dads rise at 4 am to cook breakfast and pour their hearts into every interaction with our Warriors, our Support Crew faithfully provides lunch and communion at every single Fly Fishing 101 day, and our donors who give so generously — they all, quite frankly, blow me away.
What did we get done this year? We served 252 new Warriors, family members, and WQW Alumni through 30 programs that occurred every month of the year except December. We successfully launched two new programs – the Backcountry Fishing Experience and Hunt for Purpose, providing two incredible peak experiences in nature for our participants. To sustain this level of programming (a 157% increase in programming since 2019), we increased our fundraising goal by nearly $1 million over our 2021 goal and are within striking distance of achieving that goal today. And while doing all of this, we prepared to provide a much larger impact on post-9/11 veterans and their loved ones in 2023.
If you’ve been keeping up with WQW, you heard us start talking about “Program Transformation” back in February. Program Transformation was the name we gave to the project we launched to envision a new program model that would deliver increased impact to our participants. That work continued throughout 2022, and we’re ready to launch that new program in the Spring of 2023.
This new program is called Built for More. Post-9/11 combat Veterans made a difference—to their comrades, our country, and to history. And that’s just what they’ve done so far. They are built for more. Built for More merges the power of nature and fly fishing, the support of comrades, and the expertise of a proprietary personal growth process to guide veterans to their own definition of “living better.” Two transformative Fishing Experiences serve as bookends between several months of guided self-discovery, all designed to enable veterans to build a thriving life of their own design from the ground up. Uplifted by their small cohort and led by expert input, they systematically dismantle the things holding them back and develop new strengths to move themselves forward.
With their incredible motivation, skills, discipline, and conviction, veterans carry a vast potential to serve in new ways. Returning home, they reintegrate into their families, businesses, governments, and communities. Built for More ensures veterans bring their best selves to these roles, offering unique, valuable contributions while fulfilling their own sense of purpose. When that happens, it’s a victory for the whole community.
With the launch of this new program, we’re striving to make 2023 our best year yet.
I mentioned above that we’re almost to our 2022 fundraising goal. ‘Almost’ only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, so if you’re able to help us get there, please visit this link and donate what you can before the holidays. Thank you!
Brian L. Gilman
Colonel, USMC (Ret.)
CEO, Warriors & Quiet Waters Foundation