“In your life’s defining moments there are two choices- you either step forward in faith and power or you step backward into fear.” – James Arthur Ray
Thankfully for brave local families in the fight of their lives, Jake Klopfenstein stepped forward with relentless determination to do something different after losing his friend, Ryan, to Ewing Sarcoma one-and-a-half years after diagnosis.
With a remarkable mission to brighten the lives of pediatric cancer patients through the therapeutic art of fishing, Angling For Relief has served families in Tampa Bay for five years. While his heart-warming initiative has made a lasting difference in so many lives around him, it is Jake who has been changed by the kids he gets to take fishing.
Can you share more about the goals of Angling for Relief, especially how it relates to your passion for fishing?
Jake Klopfenstein: As far as short-term goals are concerned, we would like to have a sophomore in high school who is passionate about helping kids and fishing to pick up my job when I leave for college. We also want to expand to new hospitals to give more families the Dry Fishing Kit —a small tackle box with fishing practice items and a tiny fishing rod that they can cast while in the hospital bed.
Finally, we want new families to come to our ‘Fishing is Relief Events,’ where we invite the families we work with to come to a pond or fishing pier and fish for the day with all the essentials provided for them. Working with these families has increased my passion for fishing, and I have made many connections in the fishing world, but it is much bigger than that.
Meeting people who suffer, as Ryan did, absolutely solidifies my passion for helping them and gives me the motivation to do everything in my power to make their fight with cancer just a little bit better.
As you have grown the mission of Angling For Relief over the past five years, you always share how it started with your friend Ryan Baker, who battled Pediatric Ewing Sarcoma. Please explain to our readers how Ryan’s journey inspired you to start a nonprofit organization and what it meant to you personally.
Klopfenstein: He was unable to truly be a kid and missed out on many fun gatherings. The mental strain his family experienced is something that no family should have to go through. To this day, I admire his and all other families that have been afflicted by cancer because it is extremely hard on them. They are the strongest type of people I have ever known.
I was inspired to start the organization because I wanted to help families that suffered as the Bakers did and figured fishing, my family’s therapy, was the best way to lift them up from the depths of difficulty in their lives.
One of our favorite programs Angling For Relief offers to children battling cancer is the “Dry Fishing Kit.” How did you come up with this idea, and what impact have all of your programs had on the kids you serve?
Klopfenstein: We came up with the kits through trial and error. Looking for ways we could bring fishing to someone who is in a room proved to be a challenge, but we came across one of Zebco’s products called the Dock Demon, which is a 3-foot fishing pole that was perfect to be used in a hospital. We plan out their day, so the parents do not have to stress about what type of bait to get or where to cast or anything. They just get to relax and watch their kid fish.
With the dry kits, we provide a healthy distraction and much-needed entertainment for their long hospital visits. Parents have told us their kids will use these kits for hours – setting up casting targets all around their hospital room and truly learning the fun of fishing, while also sharpening their casting skills so they have an advantage when they are actually on the water!
Is there a memorable experience from one of the children you’ve worked with through Angling for Relief that really impacted you (or them) that you can tell us?
Klopfenstein: During one of our fishing events, we had a large family (mainly foster kids) that fished for the entire event (3+ hours). At the end of the day Dean, who was recovering from cancer, told his parents that he knew the cancer was back and that he was in pain, but fished through the pain because he and his family were having such a great time fishing.
About a year later, Dean passed, leaving his family with only memories. It warms my heart that our little fishing event was one of the last moments that they experienced joy as a family and that we created a bright memory for his family to cherish forever. His family is still invited to our events; in fact, all of our bereaved families are.
Our events provide families with something that lasts forever, positive memories, and I feel extremely fulfilled that I can play a small part in making that happen.
As a young founder, what advice would you give to other kids or teenagers who have a passion for making a positive impact in our community but may not know where to start?
Klopfenstein: Don’t be afraid to talk to your parents and friends about making that passion a reality. Without my mom, Angling for Relief would still be an idea storming through my head. A great place to start is by working with organizations to see how they impact the community.
How can individuals or organizations interested in supporting Angling for Relief get involved or contribute to your cause? Are there specific ways they can help make a difference?
Klopfenstein: Fishermen can volunteer at our events (registration is on our website www.anglingforrelief.org and socials @anglingforrelief), spread the word to fishing captains that would be willing to take a family out (we pay for these trips, not pro bono), or get us into contact with businesses that may want to help (either monetarily or through item donations).
Anyone who knows a pediatric cancer patient can encourage them to contact us. There are also links for monetary donations on the website.
MORE Amazing Kids to Know in Tampa Bay:
- Kids to Know: Meet Mason Hawk, a volunteer with Children’s Dream Fund
- Kids to Know: Meet Madden Sheridan with Miracle by the Bay
- Meet more extraordinary people in Tampa Bay
Originally published in October 2023 of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine.