Call of the Wild

Invitation Tupelo
By Melanie Crownover
September 2013
view (pdf) article here

Volunteers with the Mississippi-based Catch-A-Dream Foundation say they get more than they give when they help make outdoor adventures a reality for children with life-threatening illnesses.

Hunting black bear in the Wisconsin wilderness. Angling for alligator in the Florida Everglades. Fly-fishing in a Montana mountain stream.

This is the stuff dreams are made of for families that seek out Mississippi’s Catch-A-Dream Foundation, an organization that offers hunting and fishing excursions to children under 19 with life-threatening conditions.

Since the group’s humble start as a Mississippi State University-based organization 13 years ago, the charity has moved its headquarters from campus to the private sector in Starkville, Miss., and has now served children and families from 44 states and Canada.

“We wanted to fill the gap left for children here when Make-A-Wish stopped allowing those wishes to involve firearms, knives or a bow and arrow,” said Marty Brunson, the foundation’s executive director. “But I guess the Lord just had bigger plans. Now our volunteers play an integral part in fulfilling the dreams of about 45 kids a year.”

The dedicated volunteers who assist in making those forest- and backwater-filled dreams come true see their service to the charity as a calling. Brunson said what sets them apart is the ability to invest wholeheartedly in another family’s future – whether for one weekend trip or for the long haul.

Fishing for Funds

Sandie Cox first heard about Catch-A-Dream in a Jumbotron ad at an MSU football game last year. The foundation’s mission spoke to the outdoorswoman in Cox, co-owner of Hammer Fishing Rods in Guntown, Miss. Its focus on making each trip an all-encompassing family event spoke to her as a mother and wife.

“Our industry made us a good match for Catch-A-Dream,” Sandie said. “But I also know that the healing of nature can sometimes do a lot more for you than a hospital room. I know how much [fishing together has] meant to our family.”

Sandie and her husband, Shane, frequent fishing tournaments, and her 16-year-old son, Ty, won the Mississippi Student Angler Federation High School State Championship in June. The three make time to compete together in charitable tournaments in nearby locales such as Bay Springs, Ala., and Columbus, Miss., when Ty isn’t fishing for a trophy elsewhere.

Their experience sponsoring a Jackson, Miss., tournament made them see how they could help Catch-A-Dream. After talking with Brunson about logistics, Sandie began organizing an inaugural tournament to benefit the foundation at Pickwick Lake.

That’s when Aaron Bell, a local 2011 trip recipient about Ty’s age, came into her life.

“They mentioned Aaron Bell to me when I met with Marty because he was from Savannah, Tenn., near Pickwick, and we contacted him because we thought he might want to come. We found out that next week that his tumor had returned, and within a month he’d passed away,” Sandie said. “I told my husband I didn’t think I could go on with the tournament I was so torn up.”

The organization has lost one-third of its 450 recipients to date, according to Brunson.

In the face of such grim statistics, the Cox family dedicated the tournament to the teen instead. The June 8 event drew 29 four-person teams to Pickwick and raised $8,000 for the foundation. Bell’s mother was on the banks, and his dad and uncle were out on the water.

“It was one of the most touching things I’ve ever been a part of,” Sandie said. “We’re already set for June 7 next year. I’ve already seen firsthand what peace this organization can give a family. Our goal now is to bring as much recognition to Catch-A-Dream here as they have further south.”

Dream Hunter

Oxford Realtor Adam Quick said Catch-A-Dream became part of his life in 2009 thanks to a television hunting program and a self-described aha moment on the couch.

Within months, the avid hunter was serving as a volunteer outfitter with his then-girlfriend (now wife), Brynnen, by his side. The pair felt a calling when they went along on their first trip, with Brunson serving as host. Adam watched as a frail 11-year-old throat cancer patient took aim on a Mississippi whitetail deer using a computer-assisted scope to keep him from shouldering the gun, while Brynnen rode horses and talked with his little sister.

“That trip was a game changer for us both,” Adam said. “Once that experience happened, my wife and I both got trained as hosts to travel with these kids year in and year out. You go out for these kids and their families, but what you get back mentally, spiritually and emotionally is so much that you almost need a couple of down days to take it in when you get back.”

Unlike outfitters, who provide a venue and an experienced guide for the sporting trip, hosts act as middle-men between the site provider and recipient family. They tailor the experience to the family’s tastes: from taking pictures and getting a fish mounted to making sure the child’s favorite candy is on hand or having coffee with Mom on the front porch during a hunt.

That commitment has meant one annual trip for the Quicks, until a new baby and home remodel brought a hiatus last year. But in July, Adam went to Montana on a fly-fishing trip for a 13-year-old with cystic fibrosis.

“I will continue to do this until I’m no longer physically able. It’s not just killing a buck or catching the biggest fish. It’s giving hope and renewing faith and strength for the fight they’re still facing,” Adam said. “These experiences remind them what they’re capable of and that God is in control. How could you ever walk away from that?”

To learn more about the Catch-A-Dream Foundation, visit

“We wanted to fill the gap left for children here when Make-A-Wish stopped allowing those wishes to involve firearms, knives or a bow and arrow, but I guess the Lord just had bigger plans. Now our volunteers play an integral part in fulfilling the dreams of about 45 kids a year.” – Marty Brunson