14-year-old finds a father figure in Lakeland fishing charity

Will Dunn has spent nearly the past 15 years getting kids hooked on fishing.

So when Dunn, the founder of the Lakeland-based charity Take a Kid Fishing Inc., volunteered to help on the docks at a recent youth fishing event at the Tenoroc Public Use Area in Lakeland, he couldn’t help but notice 14-year-old Joey Maraffa.  

Accompanied by his grandparents, Joey stood out to Dunn.  

“You could just tell he has a passion for it,” Dunn said. “Joey’s got that ‘leave me alone, I’ll do it myself,’ mindset.”  

There was something else that stood out to Dunn about Joey.  

Will Dunn of Lakeland, the founder of Take a Kid Fishing, and Joey Maraffa have built a bond through their love of fishing.

Seated next to Joey was his grandfather, who is suffering from dementia. Joey’s grandmother, Irene, drove them up to the event from Palmetto because she knows how serious Joey is about fishing. 

“He’s always had an interest in fishing,” said Irene, a retired teacher.  

Joey has been raised by his grandparents since he was born. And early on, it was apparent to Irene that Joey was destined to be involved in the outdoors.  

“When we lived in central Ohio, we had a stream that ran through our property,” Irene recalled. “If you were looking for him, he was in the stream. He would catch bluegill and all kinds of pan fish.” 

When the family moved to Oklahoma, Joey hit up all the ponds in the area as well. Moving to Florida only seemed to be a natural progression for Joey’s love affair with fishing. 

“I love fishing,” Joey said. “The excitement of when that fish is on the line and reeling it in … being out there with other people and just enjoying it all.” 

Joey Maraffa, 14, caught a shark while out on a charter fishing trip for his birthday with Take a Kid Fishing LLC.

Meeting Dunn has not only enriched Joey’s love for fishing, but it has given him something he’s been missing, a father figure. 

It’s something Dunn has been providing for kids since he first noticed his neighbor’s 8-year-old kid, who didn’t have a father figure in his life either. Dunn talked to the child’s mother and started taking him fishing every weekend.  

That began what is now Take a Kid Fishing LLC, which Dunn estimates has provided fishing trips for approximately 5,000 children.  

Joey was one of those kids taken on a recent trip to the Gulf of Mexico for a birthday excursion. 

 On that trip Joey caught some “bucket list” fish, including a small shark. While Joey hasn’t reeled in his dream fish yet, a tarpon, he’s certain he’ll get to one day and it wouldn’t shock him if Dunn was nearby when he does.  

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“He’s like a dad to me,” Joey said.  

Irene feels it goes beyond that. 

“It’s not just that he’s going to take him fishing,” she said. “Will teaches them about ecology (and the environment). He encourages conversation. It’s not going to just have them sit there and look at each other, it’s a shared experience. It’s an all-around situation where the kids are enriched. We’re blessed to be around him. He’s a fine man, and he’s doing good work.”  

Read the full article at The Ledger

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