Every time we get a referral request for a fishing trip you never know what the individual has experienced. I try not to pry too much, but do ask for a brief insight into what their life impacting challenge is. Paola was enlisted in the Army with four deployments over her career from 2002-2015 to Iraq and Afghanistan. Her MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) or Job was a 90 Alpha Logistics Officer. She was in charge of anything varying on getting ammo and vehicles, to our fallen soldiers being identified and brought back home.
With the generosity of our donor Shane and Tiffaney Shirley with Latitude Adjustments and Michele Adams from Bluescape Real Estate making the connection and we were able to get them a beautiful place in Big Pine Key. When Paola and her family arrived, she was in tears. “I have never stayed anywhere this nice. From the bottom of my heart thank you for doing this for our family.”
In the past we have always done group veteran trips, but as we grow we learn what works, what doesn’t, and where the need really is. One thing that I started to see over time was that a lot of our veterans can feel a disconnect with their family. Coming home from a war zone, becoming a mother, and adjusting to civilian life is a lot to handle. Then on top of all that Paola’s son Paul needed open heart surgery when he was just a few days old. With the anxiety, depression, PTSD, and other issues Paola has faces it was evident that what she needed was some good family memory making time in the Keys.
Captain Michele Morris immediately came to mind to bring Paola’s family on the water. Not only is she one of the badest (in a good way) females out on the water, her understanding of giving back, connection to Jose, and a compassionate and patient teaching methods she was able to make the family completely comfortable on the water. A few faces may have turned green, but they had fun!
“There are points in our career that sometimes we forget about the most important thing and that is our first tome angler. The journey with Paola and her family reminded me that I have the best job in the world. Our journey started out with waking up to 22 knot winds and people that had not only never fished but had not been out on a boat before. I was able to look at this journey through a little boy’s eyes. We explored sand bars, we went to the swimming hole and targeted as many species as we could. Paul hooked up to a big nurse shark and my son Lucas helped bring it in. Paola said “Are you going to take a picture with it?” Paul said “Mom how am I going to hold that?” with a puzzled look.
Most importantly I was able to teach them about just taking a couple of fish from each area. How to measure lobster and leave the small ones alone so they don’t walk. We looked for treasure shells, snorkeled and identified different species or marine life. I was able to watch a little boy who was so nervous when the boat started to moving, and by the end of the three days was jumping off the tee top.
Sometimes even as a captain we take the beauty around us for granted, but I was able to see this through the eyes of a little boy who has already gone through so much. To see the smile on Paola’s face and just be able to have the quality time with their family was worth every moment. I want to thank the Jose Wejebe Memorial Foundation on allowing me to be a part of carrying out Jose’s legacy.” -Captain Michele Morris with Spear-It Charters.
“This has been one of the best weekends I’ve ever had. My family and I are forever grateful. I cannot be any more grateful for making this dream a reality.” US Army Veteran Paola Davila