Georgia Magazine - November 2020 - 24

Bearden remembered the suggestion
that he start a nonprofit, and "a little bell
went off in my head," he says.

Fishing or fundraising?

COURTESY VETERANS FISHING ORGANIZATION

COURTESY VETERANS FISHING ORGANIZATION

Ken Bearden has found his calling in helping
veterans find peace and healing through the
simple act of fishing. Below: Joe Gilham,
shown here with his wife, Marie, was
a Vietnam veteran from Rockmills,
Ala., whom Ken Bearden calls
both "a father figure" and
"my best friend." Gilham
was the inspiration
behind the Veterans
Fishing Organization.

As word got out about his new endeavor, veterans began to book Bearden's fishing trips through
his website, vfohome.org.
"My goal is to do 100 trips a year with veterans, and I think I
was able to get maybe 70 out last year because I had to spend so
much time trying to get donations," he says.
Fundraising was particularly challenging this year, because
COVID-19 canceled the events he relies on to raise money to
cover gas, insurance, boat payments and life jackets.
Luckily, donors stepped up to help fill the financial
shortfall.
"A contribution was made [to the VFO] by Diverse Power
in order to benefit our vets, who do so much to protect our
freedoms," says Richard Williams, chairman of the board for the
LaGrange-based member-owned electric cooperative. "It's a
terrific cause."

Bonds beyond the boat
Like Joe Gilham, many veterans have trouble talking about
their military experiences. But Bearden makes a point to reach
out to veterans after their day together.
"I'll just call to say, 'Hey, I enjoyed spending the day with
you,' and the next thing you know, they're talking 90 miles an
hour," he says.
Bearden has realized how freeing being on the water can
be. "We're just out there enjoying the day and having fun, so it's
real easy for them to open up."

24

Georgia Magazine

November 2020

'When you're troubled, Ken
will get on the phone with you.
It makes me feel really loved
by somebody else other than
my family.'

-Richard DuPont

Research backs up what he has observed.
A study done in 2012 by the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor is just one of many that suggest a
link between outdoor group recreational activities
and improved mental health in
veterans.
But it doesn't take a university study to appreciate the
impact Bearden's mission is having on fellow LaGrange residents
Richard and Amy DuPont.
"When you're troubled, Ken
will get on the phone with you,"
says Richard DuPont, a Vietnam
veteran with multiple health
conditions and PTSD. "It makes
me feel really loved by somebody
else other than my family."
"I know this [conversation]
is supposed to be about the lake,
but it's much more than that for
us," says Amy DuPont, who is able to make quick
trips to the store while Bearden stays with her husband. "Ken is really just kind beyond words."
"It's the camaraderie that he has with the veterans beyond the lake," Richard DuPont says, noting
that fishing with Bearden gives him peace. "Even if
I don't catch a fish, just being on the quiet waters
and listening to nature puts my head in a whole new
place."
Bearden hears that a lot, but he responds with a
laugh, "Yeah, no; we have to get some fish!"
Derek Bailey, the Iraq War veteran with PTSD,
is now on honorable discharge and able to devote all
his time to his family, but he did not have the skills to
take his 9-year-old son fishing.
"Within 10 minutes of being out with Ken, we
had a 10-inch-long fish. That was just amazing for
me," he says. "It made my heart swell up, providing
that for my son. And now I'm looking over at Ken,
and I'm like, 'He's giving this to us.'"
Helen Newling Lawson is a freelance writer in
Forsyth County.
For more information, call (706) 884-0494 or visit
vfohome.org.


http://www.vfohome.org http://www.vfohome.org

Georgia Magazine - November 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Georgia Magazine - November 2020

Contents
Georgia Magazine - November 2020 - Intro
Georgia Magazine - November 2020 - Cover1
Georgia Magazine - November 2020 - Cover2
Georgia Magazine - November 2020 - Contents
Georgia Magazine - November 2020 - 4
Georgia Magazine - November 2020 - 5
Georgia Magazine - November 2020 - 6
Georgia Magazine - November 2020 - 7
Georgia Magazine - November 2020 - 8
Georgia Magazine - November 2020 - 9
Georgia Magazine - November 2020 - 10
Georgia Magazine - November 2020 - 11
Georgia Magazine - November 2020 - 12
Georgia Magazine - November 2020 - 13
Georgia Magazine - November 2020 - 14
Georgia Magazine - November 2020 - 15
Georgia Magazine - November 2020 - 16
Georgia Magazine - November 2020 - 17
Georgia Magazine - November 2020 - 18
Georgia Magazine - November 2020 - 19
Georgia Magazine - November 2020 - 20
Georgia Magazine - November 2020 - 21
Georgia Magazine - November 2020 - 22
Georgia Magazine - November 2020 - 23
Georgia Magazine - November 2020 - 24
Georgia Magazine - November 2020 - 25
Georgia Magazine - November 2020 - 26
Georgia Magazine - November 2020 - 27
Georgia Magazine - November 2020 - 28
Georgia Magazine - November 2020 - 29
Georgia Magazine - November 2020 - 30
Georgia Magazine - November 2020 - 31
Georgia Magazine - November 2020 - 32
Georgia Magazine - November 2020 - 33
Georgia Magazine - November 2020 - 34
Georgia Magazine - November 2020 - 35
Georgia Magazine - November 2020 - 36
Georgia Magazine - November 2020 - 37
Georgia Magazine - November 2020 - 38
Georgia Magazine - November 2020 - Cover3
Georgia Magazine - November 2020 - Cover4
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