Folks behind state hunting, fishing charity go above and beyond

Ron SteffeLike many in everyday life, there are those in the outdoor world who work behind the scenes without fanfare, to help those less fortunate.

There were only a handful of homes on the country road where I grew up. The remaining land was a mixture of overgrown fields, low laying woods and farmland.

In one of those homes a boy lived with his family — for a few years anyway — who was two years older than myself. And although I knew he shared the same heightened passion for fishing and hunting that I possessed, we never shared a minute together afield or near water.

Still, I knew Leon well enough that we never shied from conversation about outdoor endeavors whenever our paths crossed.

Eventually his family moved from that home, but they stayed close, moving to the nearby town, which sat only a couple miles away. Years later he became owner of a home in that same town, and remodeled the basement into a neat little sporting goods store.

That was 35 year ago.

Through the years the store has done well considering the diminutive nature of the shop, and much like any small town gathering spot, it has always been a place for folks to comfortably share stories and opinions.

Leon, too, has always been generous with money from that business, donating for annual purchases of pheasants to stock locally on farms open for hunting, and first buying, then raising trout that are stocked every spring in a nearby stream open to fishing for anyone.

He was rewarded for those kindhearted efforts on one occasion by being named Berks County’s Sportsman of the Year, an award he accepted quietly and humbly.

His unselfishness has actually developed to the point where in 2010, he and a couple of friends started a non-profit organization entitled Moment Of Peace Adventures, or MOPA as they call it.

MOPA has one stated mission — to send youths 18 and under who are burdened with a life-threatening illness or a severe physical disability on a dream outdoor experience that will at least momentarily, relieve them of their suffering, and provide a lasting memory from a natural world encounter.

To date, MOPA has funded — through fundraising events and private donations — both hunting and fishing exploits for nine different youths. Another four are scheduled for outings this year.

I have not personally been part of this group, but I was close enough to see and understand their practice and method when I wrote a story about their initial adventure taking a youth on a crossbow hunt for a Corsica Ram on a island in the Susquehanna River.

That hunt was a success, and to add to the overall delight of the day, the boy’s father was also allowed to take a ram courtesy of MOPA and the outfitter's generosity.

A mere two months later that boy succumbed to the disease that had invaded his body, a gut-wrenching experience for all involved, including myself.

Yet Leon and his co-founders had accomplished their goal by giving this fine young man, for a brief moment in his short life, an experience of joy that he had never expected to come about.

Leon had told me that just witnessing the smiles and laughs the father and son shared on that day in 2010 had been more than enough reward for MOPA’s efforts.

I salute Leon and his partners, as I think anyone should who understands what exactly they have already accomplished, and continue to do. They certainly make the world a better place with their selflessness.

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