For most of a lifetime, Captain Steve Henline has been a guide and fisherman. He has fished and been involved with fishing charter operations from Anchorage, Alaska to Zihuatanajo, Mexico. Most recently he was at Utah’s beautiful Lake Powell where he had a charter and guiding business.
Through the years he has made his skills and boats available to our nation’s veterans and special needs children without charge. This was his way to say thank you to the veterans for their service and a way to share with the children something that has given him a lifetime of happiness: fishing and being on the water.
As our soldiers began to return from Iraq and later Afghanistan, he saw many suffering horrific wounds and lost limbs. Captain Henline was haunted by what he saw. News stories from veteran’s hospitals left him sleepless as he struggled with their suffering and wept at the great price our men and women have paid with their blood on far off desert sands.
His determination to do something steeled him against any obstacles he would encounter as he strived to find a way to help.
The Decision to Build a Boat
During the years he lamented the fact that his boats were unable to take the most severely injured aboard. He simply could not accommodate wheelchairs. After retiring, Captain Henline was discussing this with friends in his home town. Their advice was simple, “If you can’t buy one that will fill your needs . . . build one.”
With that advice and a promise to assist in creating a nonprofit organization to handle all the details, the dream was formed. Within weeks he had purchased 35-foot pontoons and construction began.
Although he had no experience building boats, he had a lifetime of experience aboard them and a clear vision of what he wanted — a boat that would accommodate several wheelchairs and completely rigged to fish.
The Beginning of Hand in Hand Outdoors
Word soon spread of his project. Friends and strangers alike appeared at the work site wanting to help. They donated their labor, materials and experience. More often than not they came in wheelchairs doing what they could and offering advice to the structure and how the boat could best serve the needs of the disabled.
Weeks turned to months as the boat rose above the pontoons to become something special as simultaneously the nonprofit organization, called “Hand in Hand Outdoors” was being created by many from the community who came together and shared the captains noble goals.
When it became apparent that the boat could serve more than the wounded warriors and disabled vets, the Mission statement expanded to assisting disabled individuals across a wide spectrum of the community; special needs children, who through no fault of their own suffered greatly and others in wheelchairs that could find a day of therapy upon the water.
There would be no limits, aside being disabled, to those that Hand in Hand Outdoors would serve. Alliances were created with the Vets Center, the Army’s Wounded Warrior program, children’s organizations and many others. The dream was becoming a reality.
Today the boat called “Freedoms Dream” leaves her mooring place at the Provo Boat Harbor almost daily. Her decks carrying those aboard who the captain dreamed to serve on the beautiful lake surrounded by snow clad mountains. Captain Henline payment is the smiles and tears of gratitude from those he chose to serve. Captain Henline will never charge a fee to those who come aboard his boats. Hand in Hand Outdoors is funded by donations from people of the community or those who want to help Hand in Hand Outdoors continue to provide this opportunity to those who may never get a chance to experience a day on the water.
Achieving our goals
Hand in Hand Outdoors initial goal for 2013 was to have 500 individuals aboard ” Freedoms Dream”. In mid September that goal was achieved. At Strawberry Reservoir during a trip with 8 World War Two veterans the 500th individual came aboard. This is the story:
September 16, 2013
Kourtney Kruger WW II veteran and POW
Strawberry Reservoir, UT
Hand in Hand Outdoors LLC had the honor and privilege of spending the day fishing with 8 WWII veterans aboard their especially designed handicapped accessible boat “Freedoms Dream”.
The group of veterans representing all four of America’s armed forces; Marines, Navy, Air Force and Army are residents of the veteran’s home in Salt Lake City, UT. They were invited aboard to thank them for their valiant service to our country.
The aging veterans, all part of the group called Americas Greatest Generation are in their 80’s and 90’s. Four were wheelchair bound and the others required walkers.
One of the group, Sgt. Kourtney Kruger was the 500th individual aboard Hand in Hands big fishing boat “Freedoms Dream”. Sgt Kruger was in the Philippines when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and was taken prisoner when the Japanese invaded the Philippines shortly after. Hundreds of captured Americans perished during the invasion and the subsequent Bataan Death March. His story is truly a tale of tears as he witnessed his fellow soldiers being shot, bayoneted and crushed to death under the tracks of Japanese bull dozers. Sgt Kruger was transported to Japan and held prisoner in a POW camp until the end of the war in 1945.There he witnessed his fellow POWs dying from starvation and abuse at the hands of the enemy He is truly, an American Hero who has suffered greatly for his country.
Captain Steve Henline, skipper of Freedoms Dream and co-founder of Hand in Hand Outdoors remarked “Achieving our goal of having 500 individuals aboard the boat was especially poignant today with this remarkable group of WWII vets. As a nation we can never repay our men and women in uniform and our vets for what they have done, but we try, if only in a small way, to tell them thank you and that they are greatly appreciated for their valor, service and sacrifices”
He continued,” It takes a whole community to make an event like this possible; Hand in Hands officers and board of directors, volunteers, as well as the donors who work tirelessly to insure we have the means to show our gratitude to those individuals, not only veterans but others with disabilities. To be involved with such a noble cause is truly a blessing from God.”