A mention of kids cloistered inside with electronic devices riles up Michelle Bradshaw to the boiling point.
This 50-year-old Alamance County resident comes by her beliefs from a lifetime filled with outdoor pursuits. She grew up on a dairy farm off N.C. 54 between Graham and Chapel Hill fishing and hunting with her three brothers.
Now her passion is to see that any youngster who longs for the outdoors has a chance to experience it whether it be elk hunting out west or waterfowl hunting Down East in North Carolina.
Bradshaw is the national coordinator of Hunters Helping Kids, a non-profit organization founded in 2004 in Alamance County.
“HHK is dedicated to inspire and educate our youth in wildlife conversation and management,” she said on HHK’s website. “It’s our belief that by involving our youth in outdoor shooting sports, the desire to preserve the conservation and hunting heritage will endure through future generations.”
Chris Hatley, 51, a former heavy machine operator, developed the vision for HHK after he and friends took several youngsters hunting.
“Noticing the effect this had on the kids. … Chris and his friends began trying to find ways to do it bigger and better,” Bradshaw said.
The result is a 10-year-old organization with approximately 3,000 members in 37 chapters that span several states including North Carolina, Virginia, Texas, Ohio, Kentucky, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania.
Allen Thompson, a paramedic and Methodist minister in Cabarrus County, can’t praise HHK enough for the positive results it has had on his daughter Angel, a nine-year-old diagnosed with brain cancer.
“Angel has weakness and coordination issues that will prevent her from ever playing soccer or basketball, but she can hunt. It gives her a level playing field with other kids,” he said. “We have to help her get around in the woods, but put her in a deer stand and give her a rifle and she’s just like any other kid.”
Angel, who harvested three deer last season, is preparing to turkey hunt in April. Because of HHK, she also has experienced hunting waterfowl, quail, rabbits and squirrel.
“Hunters Helping Kids has given her confidence she could succeed outdoors,” Thompson said. “When she’s outdoors she doesn’t think about her illness. HHK has given her an opportunity and a place to be herself and to be normal like other kids.”
On HHK hunts, an experienced guide and parent or guardian accompanies each youngster. Every child receives a rifle and other hunting gear as a gift.
Various fund raising efforts, including chapter banquets, finance HHK programs
“HHK is a volunteer organization that totally depends on great people with the desire to continue the hunting heritage and to pass it along with proper knowledge and safety,” Bradshaw said.
She fondly recalls growing up on a farm and the impact it has had on her life. She realizes HHK will never duplicate her lifestyle but does offer an outdoor experience for any youngster with the desire.
“I want to instill in kids what was instilled in me,” Bradshaw said. “It bothers me to ride around and rarely see kids outside playing and climbing trees. Electronics are taking over these kids.”
As a youngster, Bradshaw gathered eggs, fed and milked cows, cared for hogs, accompanied her grandfather to his sawmill on rainy and snowy days, and help plant a family garden. With her brothers she hunted deer, rabbits and doves and fished farm ponds.
“We had beagles, at least 60,” she said. “We had a lot going on when I was growing up. I was blessed to grow up like that. I care about kids and want them to enjoy the outdoors. The reward is to make a difference in a kid’s life.”
So where does Hatley, the HHK founder, see his organization going in the future?
“I want to see it continue to grow and continue to put a smile of kids’ faces,” he said. “It’ll go wherever the good Lord wants to take it.”