20240523 Photo May 23 2024 6 23 09 PM

Athens Jr. and Sr. High School converge at Rotary Park in Coldwater, Michigan fishing.

DEAEF Youth Fishing Program in Michigan Expands to Include Programs in New Orleans

The DEA Educational Foundation (DEAEF) Youth Fishing Program, a collaborative effort between the DEAEF and DEA’s Operation Engage, is making waves as it expands its reach from the serene lakes of Michigan to the vibrant city of New Orleans. Last year, the Youth Fishing Program ran in two locations in Michigan, and this year, its ripple effect reaches even further, touching the hearts of youth in New Orleans.

In its essence, the Youth Fishing Program is more than just a recreational activity; it’s a catalyst for positive change, guiding young minds towards constructive outlets while fostering an appreciation for nature. This one-day program is designed to ignite a passion for fishing, steering youngsters away from the temptations of substance abuse and towards the tranquility of the outdoors.

Student and teacher with a fish. Students with program certificate. Kalamazoo Milwood Magnet School group photo.


This year’s Michigan programs included two immersive sessions, each offering a unique experience for the participating students. On May 22, 2024, eager students from Kalamazoo Milwood Magnet School embarked on a journey to Wolf Lake State Hatchery. Guided by their teacher, James Warner, and mentored by Paul Frazier of the Fishin’ Weather Project, these budding anglers learned the art of casting their lines amid the serene beauty of the hatchery’s surroundings. Wendie Jackson, Community Outreach Specialist from the DEA, attended the first day of the program, further enriching the experience with her insights and support.

Students with their new fishing rods. Students learning about fishing. Students getting ready to fish. Fishing off the dock. Student showing off fish caught. Fishing off the dock.


The following day, May 23, 2024, saw another group of enthusiastic students from Athens Jr. and Sr. High School converge at Rotary Park in Coldwater, Michigan. Under the watchful eye of Sergeant Frank Rugg from the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi (NHBP) Tribal Police, these young anglers delved into the world of fishing from both pier and shoreline. The DEA Educational Foundation and NHBP Tribal Police encouraged students from grades five through eight to embrace the joys of fishing while steering clear of harmful substances. Tribal and state fishery experts guided the students through the intricacies of assembling fishing rods and baiting hooks, while also imparting wisdom on water safety and conservation.

Operation Engage shirt and hat.

Operation Engage shirt and hat.

Throughout both days, the program went beyond the act of fishing, instilling valuable lessons in the hearts and minds of the participants. DEA Public Information Officer Brian McNeal led discussions on the DEA’s mission, emphasizing the importance of drug prevention and awareness. Students recited the student pledge, received certificates of achievement, and engaged in conversations about prescription drug safety and the dangers of vaping.

DEA Group Supervisor Mike Tighe attended both days to guide and support the budding anglers. Additionally, the DEA Educational Foundation supplied fishing rods, hats, and meals for the students of Athens Jr. and Sr. High School at Rotary Park on May 23. The students also received Operation Engage t-shirts and cups courtesy of DEA Detroit, further enhancing their experience and fostering a sense of camaraderie.

As the sun set on each day’s activities, the students departed with newfound skills, cherished memories, and a deeper appreciation for the great outdoors. Thanks to the generosity of the DEA Educational Foundation, boxed meals were provided to keep hunger at bay, ensuring that the students could focus wholeheartedly on their fishing endeavors.

For many of the participants, the Youth Fishing Program was a journey of firsts—a first cast, a first catch, and a first taste of the serenity that nature offers. With each tug on the line and each ripple in the water, the program echoed its resounding message: that there is beauty and fulfillment to be found in the simplicity of casting a line and waiting patiently for a bite.

With each tug on the line and each ripple in the water, the program echoed its resounding message: that there is beauty and fulfillment to be found in the simplicity of casting a line and waiting patiently for a bite.

Harry S. Truman Elementary School

Harry S. Truman Elementary School

New Orleans

As previously mentioned, this year, the program expanded to include programs in New Orleans. The DEA Educational Foundation partnered with the New Orleans DEA division to host two days of the Youth Fishing Program at Loop Nola, an organization that provides positive, life-changing outdoor adventures to children and youth regardless of their family income, physical limitations, or experience. 

On Tuesday, May 14, 26 sixth to eighth grade students from Harry S. Truman School were bussed to Loop Nola, located in City Park. The event began with a warm welcome from Dr. Leslie Faulkner, Community Outreach Specialist from the New Orleans DEA Field Division. Dr. Faulkner spoke about the DEA's mission and introduced Amy Danos from the DEAEF, who discussed the foundation and its partnership with the DEA. Heather West, Executive Director of Loop Nola, then took the stage to talk about their organization and the day’s activities.

The program for the day included teaching the students how to cast and fish, as well as team-building exercises and nature walks led by Loop Nola representatives. The catch-and-release fishing experience was enriched by discussions on the ecosystem, including turtles and birds, and the importance of healthy coping skills. Representatives emphasized how connecting with nature can help manage stress.

On Thursday, May 16, the program continued with students from Isaac Joseph Elementary. The format of the day mirrored that of the first, with DEA agents assisting the children in casting their lines into the lake, and Loop Nola representatives leading educational nature walks and team-building activities.

All participating students received cinch sacks, t-shirts, fishing hats, and snacks, ensuring they were well-equipped and comfortable throughout the experience.

As the Youth Fishing Program continues to expand its reach in these catch-and-release programs, from the tranquil lakes of Michigan to the bustling streets of New Orleans, it serves as a testament to the transformative power of community engagement. Through partnerships forged in compassion and dedication, the Youth Fishing Program is casting a positive future for the youth of today and the leaders of tomorrow.

by Meredith Liepelt

Updated Jun 7, 2024

Partnerships, YP