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Outer Banks VIPs fishing trips rank way above average

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Wayne Smith, Gerland Jones and Johny Carson enjoying each other's company.

When Johny Carson, 70, of Rutherford County got on a van for the annual Visually Impaired Persons (VIP) Fishing Trip to the Outer Banks, he was beyond excited. It was not just an average fishing trip to the Outer Banks and it was not Johny's first VIP trip. It won't be his last either. He's already planning for the next trip in October.

Lions Clubs across North Carolina, including the Outer Banks Lions Club, the Chase, Lake Lure and Rutherfordton Lions clubs, sponsor the annual trips for the visually impaired across the state, picking up the tab for fishing, lodging and some of the meals.

"Oh, man. This is just a ball of fun," Johny said recently.

"I never did catch any fish but the guy on the boat with me caught a 20-pounder," Johny said.

It was his first time fishing from a boat. He usually fishes from a dock or pier.

"It was a good experience," he said.

Johny is legally blind with 20/200 Vision in both eyes, he said. One of seven children growing up, Johny was educated at a school in Spartanburg for special needs students.

"I could see enough to go to school," he said.

Approximately 12 VIPs from Rutherford County were joined by other VIPs, guardians from Lions Cub across the state and staff members from the Division of the Blind, Department of Social Services for the October 2023 trip.

Rhonda Greene, the social worker for the blind at Rutherford County's Department of Social Services, and four other adults accompanied the VIPs from Rutherford County on the trip.

They were transported to the Outer Banks on a donated van, driven also by a volunteer.

"It was such a rewarding thing for me, I get to see people from all over the State as they have come together to provide this trip," Rhonda said. "It is so inspirational to see people who have never been able to get out of their county, couldn't ever feel the ocean waters, until this trip."

"When they get to experience this, I've witnessed the changes in these people. They were depressed and then we go on these trips and they are good. It amazes me," Rhonda continued.

"To see people who are completely blind and then to hear somebody's voice, 'John is that you'?, it is a great trip. Beautiful friendships are made," she said. Friends are reunited.

Tammy Grier, 60, of Ellenboro also joined the VIPS.

"Being able to get out and to go on a fishing boat, to just feel the weather...riding on the boat was wonderful," she said.

She loves to catch fish and caught some on the trip.

Her favorite fish is flounder, although any fish caught on the trip are released.

Tammy's husband was among the other adults on the trip.

"He baits the hooks and helps take off fish," she said. "Also getting to know the people who go through the same struggles as I do" is special, she said. Tammy is legally blind.

"We go shopping as a group,' she said. "We have time to get on the beach if we want to, get to know each other and have various conversations," she said.

Wayne Smith, 62, of Sandy Mush, was a VIP.

"The North Carolina State Lions Clubs are unreal. They treat us like gold," Wayne said.

"You get to know a lot of different people who share the same problem. It is easy to get down and out, but when you go down there and you see other people who can't see as good as you, it is amazing. I love the trip," Wayne said.

He said the local Lions Club "go all out" to make sure the trip to the Outer Banks is successful.

"It's just so awesome. When you're fishing, they (Lions members) take the fish off and bait (the hook) again," he said.

Wayne has fished from the pier and also out in the sea from a boat.

"Everybody in the Lions Club makes the trip awesome," he added.

Wayne's son-in-law, David Gregg, who pastors a church in Landrum, SC, provided a church van for VIPS from Rutherford County and he was the bus driver.

The Lions clubs across the state pick up the tab for the three night fishing trip excursion, lodging and some of the food.

The Outer Banks tourism department also supports the cause by allowing VIPs free admission to many of the tourist destinations such as the aquarium, the Wright Brothers Museum and Jockey's Ridge.

"We enjoy visiting these places while we are there," Rhonda said.

Rhonda has been going with VIPS since 2017 and each year the numbers of people have increased, and for that she's grateful.

"I've been doing this a long time. I want the people of Rutherford County to have this experience," she said.

"They meet people year after year and it makes them feel a little more normal," Rhonda said.

"We keep trying to grow this," Rhonda said "The people that go always want to go back every year so we're trying to raise money."

The group, including VIPS, sell T-shirts and donuts, to raise funds.

Lions Clubs across Rutherford County, the state, other individuals and businesses also donate money to help with the cause.

VIPS often volunteer to help raise money, such as setting up booths in downtown Forest City, with money going for the trip.

The Lions Clubs also sell brooms, Boston butts to raise money for the trips.

With the next trip set for Oct. 21-23, Greene encourages anyone who will to help with donations, fundraisers or transportation.

For more information or to take the VIP trip, contact Rutherfordton Lions President Jeff Garrett at 828-748-2960.

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