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Philanthropy through fishing

Fishing with Friends program gets people with special needs out on the water.


Story by Karren Morahan

On an island, fishing is more than a recreational pursuit. It’s a passion, a livelihood, a way of communing with nature. On Hilton Head Island, the fishing community isn’t only passionate about our waters – ocean, sound, intracoastal, and rivers – they are tight-knit and very giving.

On the first Saturday in October for the past 28 years — give or take a COVID interruption — captains and boats have gathered at the Hilton Head Boathouse to provide people with special needs the opportunity to go out on the water.

They call it “Fishing with Friends.” It’s a simple concept that brings excitement and exploration to Hilton Head’s special-needs community.

Fuzzy Davis, an award-winning fisherman who has worked the waters around Hilton Head for more than 40 years, created Fishing With Friends along with Rose Fotia, co-founder of The Children’s Relief Fund. They were aided by volunteers and parents Kim Davis, Kathy Cramer of SOAR, and Carol Bartholomew of Pockets Full of Sunshine, who all rolled up their shirtsleeves to launch the program.

“We all got together and figured this thing out,” recalls Davis. They started with five boats and are now up to 35 boats and 65 participants, plus a slew of chaperones, volunteers, dockhands, and generous vendors from the community.

“The smiles on their faces when they hook a fish, see a dolphin, or simply feel the wind in their faces brings me so much joy,” Davis said. “Personally, I think we get more out of the day than the participants. And now, some of our participants who were kids back then are grown adults.”

Every Fishing with Friends day is carefully planned and managed, from arrival time to distribution of hats and T-shirts. Of course, life jackets are required, as is a caregiver or chaperone to accompany each attendee. There’s even an EMT aboard one boat, just in case.

Each person is given a nametag and assigned a boat before being welcomed aboard. Then, for two hours, they explore the waters around Hilton Head. Some go to favorite fishing spots; others stay closer, prowling the calmer waters of local creeks and sounds.

Davis, who follows the 20-minute rule (“If you stop on a spot and don’t catch anything in 20 minutes, move.”) says some of his guests want to keep their fish and bring them home.

“It’s amazing what’s been caught over the years,” he says, “from 30-pound redfish and flounder to sea trout and sharks. But, 99 percent of the fish are released back to the waters.”

The fun continues when the boats return to shore and a picnic lunch is provided by the Skull Creek Boathouse (Serg Group). Throw in some entertainment, and it becomes a festive atmosphere, what they affectionately call “Food With Friends.”

Bartholomew, mother of a special-needs adult daughter and co-founder of Pockets Full of Sunshine (PFS), says that Fishing with Friends is a day filled with love and laughter. Fishing is the excuse to get together; the relationships and friendships are meaningful and the social interactions are priceless.

“For everyone involved, this is truly a rewarding experience,” says Davis, “From the dockhands at Hilton Head Boathouse, to the captains, crews, and volunteers. And without hesitation, at the end of the day everyone says, ‘put me down for next year.’”

While Fishing With Friends only can accommodate people from Hilton Head and Bluffton, Davis says he’d like to franchise the concept and bring Fishing With Friends and similar events to other communities.

Because it’s a fish story everyone wants to hear.


Saltwater Sunshine shirts support local nonprofit

Creativity and caring know no boundaries: Ask someone talented for help, and the results speak for themselves. Pockets Full of Sunshine combined its desire to recognize and honor the fishing community, which has have been supportive in so many ways over the years, and redfish, which are emblematic of the Lowcountry.

A new T-shirt sporting a spot tail bass, (“redfish”) — dubbed “Saltwater Sunshine” and emblazoned with the PFS logo as the spot— recently was unveiled as a fundraising vehicle and screen-printing activity for the Rays, who are special-needs adults that participate in PFS. The one-of-a-kind design can be procured online at pocketsfullofsun.org, in local markets and at special events.

Hilton Head native Charlotte Fraser has been making art since childhood. After graduating from Clemson with her bachelor’s and Harvard with her master’s, she spent years as an art teacher, cultivating the skills and passions of her students from Arkansas, to Washington, D.C., to Charleston. Today, she curates her own art, working out of her studio at Redux Contemporary Art Center in Charleston and co-owns a children’s products company, Saltwater Swaddles.

[Q] What inspired you to create the design for Pockets Full of Sunshine? [A] After talking with Carol Bartholomew, Laurin Rivers and Dayna Dehlinger (co-founders of PFS) about Pocket Full of Sunshine’s mission and plan, I knew I would be able to help out with the design for their shirts. Helping them to achieve their goals in any small way is very motivating to me. I was happy to help.

[Q] You work in acrylic, watercolor, and charcoal. In which medium did you create the original artwork? [A] Most of my work is painting, but for this I knew it would be screen printed so pen and ink was the best choice. I love how it translated into the final product!

[Q] Having been raised in Hilton Head, what were your favorite pastimes here? [A] My parents really took advantage of the natural beauty of Hilton Head while raising us. I loved going on outdoor adventures. We spent a lot of time at the beach and out on the boat. My mom was an expert shark tooth hunter and spent a lot of time helping us hone that skill.

[Q] Are you a fisherwoman? [A] No, but I absolutely love crabbing and try to go as much as possible. Crabbing is another favorite childhood memory that I cannot wait to share with my kids.