Capable Partners gets physically challenged into the outdoors
When Evan Newton was 13 years old, he was diagnosed with a rare nerve disease. At 39, that same disease confined him to a wheelchair. At 44, he killed his first white-tailed deer.
Newton felled the small doe from 45 yards with a 20-gauge shotgun at Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area in Forest Lake. He used a bench rest to steady his shotgun because, at the time, he didn’t have the strength to hold it up himself.
“I didn’t get buck fever. I just remember being pretty calm about it all,” Newton said. “But my brother was with me and he was ecstatic.”
Today, Newton is president of Capable Partners, a nonprofit group that’s dedicated to getting physically disabled men and women into the outdoors to hunt and fish. Now 55 and retired from work, Newton’s life, he says, is dedicated to the organization and its events.
“Really, my whole life revolves around the hunting and fishing seasons,” he said. “I tell my wife not to plan too much without letting me know first.”
Capable Partners was founded in 1982 by Jim Hale, who, after a long recovery after back surgery in 1980, was inspired to reconnect individuals with physical disabilities to the outdoors. The group’s mission statement is to “provide opportunities for personal growth and independence for physically challenged persons and able-bodied partners through participation in fishing, hunting, and related outdoor activities.”
“Our values are enhancing relationships with family and friends, promoting ethical hunting and fishing, and helping individuals realize their potential,” Newton said. “You may be disabled in some way, but that doesn’t mean your outdoors life has to be over.”
According to Newton, the organization typically has 36 hunting and fishing events each year, and at least one every month. That includes special duck, deer, pheasant, turkey, and deer (archery and firearms) hunting, as well as events for walleye, salmon, trout, panfish, and muskie fishing.
Newton said the group manages more than 50 accessible deer blinds across the state, and partners with the Minnesota DNR, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and various sportsmen’s groups. In addition, Newton said his group receives help from nonprofit conservation groups like Pheasants Forever and others.
“We’ve developed great relationships over the years, all with the idea of getting our members outdoors more often,” he said.
Capable Partner has five officers, 11 board members (the five officers and six regular board members; six of 11 must be disabled), and 220 members, 120 of whom are disabled. The remaining members are able-bodied men and women who help with events and other tasks within the organization. The group also has 22 coordinators – individuals who are responsible for making the outdoor events happen.
“We are all volunteers, including me,” Newton said. “We have no paid staff. This group is actually all about our volunteers and the incredible work they do. We wouldn’t exist without them.”
Fund-raising is an important function for the group, Newton said, because few events would happen without it. The group raises money through memberships ($25 annually), an annual banquet (with a silent auction and raffle), and by individual and corporate donations.
Newton said the organization is always looking for new members and volunteers to help fulfill its mission. In most cases, volunteers are able-bodied hunters and/or anglers who help organize the planned outings. Some have outdoor areas of expertise, like waterfowling, turkey hunting, or ice fishing.
“Some volunteers eventually become coordinators,” Newton said. “We’re always looking for help.”
Capable Partners has an active social media presence, particularly on Facebook, where it routinely posts photographs of planned outings. A recent ice-fishing trip had members mugging for the camera with crappies in hand.
Newton first joined Capable Partners in 2004. Before becoming president in April of 2016, he was on its board for a year. More importantly, he said, he’s been able to hunt and fish and spend more time in nature than he ever imagined.
Newton said most disabled members want – and need – to get outdoors to hunt and fish and just experience the peace and solitude of a natural setting. “Just getting out” alone helps with their mental health, he said.
For more information about Capable Partners, visit www.capablepartners.org.