By Kris Leonhardt
MARSHFIELD — The United Special Sportsman Alliance (USSA) is a nonprofit organization granting wishes in outdoor adventures for critically ill and disabled children and veterans. USSA operates similarly to programs such as Make-A-Wish but with a focus on the great outdoors.
“We specialize in the outdoors,” explained USSA Wisconsin State Representative John Haydock, “so we do things like hunting, fishing, kayaking, canoeing, some things that maybe they wouldn’t be able to get from another venue.”
Brigid O’Donoghue founded the organization in the hopes that she might remove these individuals from care facilities and take them to a place where they could “focus on the quality of life, family ties, and the wonders of our natural world.”
USSA operates with a volunteer staff and often relies on the generosity of “adventure donors” as well as the donations of private and corporate sponsors.
“There is no one (person) paid,” Haydock said. “This is a fully volunteer organization. There are no paid employees in the whole United Special Sportsman Alliance, so any donations that we get go directly towards wish granting. From Brigid on down, there is no pay.”
Many wishes are granted on a sprawling sportsmen’s complex near Pittsville. Others are taken as far as the Atlantic Ocean.
Each summer USSA hosts a Summerfest event where it welcomes participants from all around the country to participate in a multitude of outdoor activities, including a cranberry marsh tour, wagon ride, arts and crafts, horseback riding, fishing, archery, tubing, boating, volleyball, camping, entertainment, and more.
“They come from all over, and it is just a good time to reunite,” Haydock said. “We are kind of a family. We like to do that annually.
“We try to provide this all at no cost to the families, so donations are important to us.”
The program allows participants to open up with the freedom to express themselves while providing a support system for the families.
“Five years ago when we starting going to USSA, David was so shy,” said Sheryl Kolb, whose son David participates in the program. “He would not talk to anybody. He would not leave the bouncy house. He would sleep in there. I mean you couldn’t get him out for nothing. Now it’s nonstop from the time we get there at 6 o’clock in the morning. He wants to be swimming, or he wants to go shoot, or he wants to go do whatever. … It’s a place where he can go and just be himself.
“You all become a family. You keep in touch. … It’s just wonderful because then you have an extra resource to go to.”
For more information visit childswish.org or watch Hub City Times’ and MCTV’s “Local Matters” program featuring USSA at hubcitytimes.com/2017/08/20/local-matters-debut-ussa.