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“Overwhelmingly rewarding”: Former police officer helps kids without a parent discover the outdoors

The need was clear, almost from the start, as Craig Politte started his new career as a mental health therapist in the St. Louis area.

A former police officer, Craig often worked with children experiencing the loss of a parent or the breakup of a family.

In addition to helping kids cope with sadness and grief, a common refrain was, “I wish there was someone who could teach me” about fishing or hunting.

Motivated to fill the void and ensure all kids could spend time with a positive role model, Craig started Kids Missing Dads Outdoors (KMDO) in January of 2020.

KMDO is a volunteer-driven not-for-profit that provides resources to help replace the attention and instruction a parent would have given in exploring and embracing the great outdoors.

“I raised my kids in the outdoors,” Craig said. “Working with kids in the therapeutic setting, hearing their loss and learning a majority of them had never been exposed to the outdoors, motivated me, my family and friends to start the organization.”

The group has 11 volunteers specializing in different areas of hunting and fishing, and 13 children have been paired up with them so far in 2021, going on activities and helping share the outdoors with boys and girls who may not otherwise have gotten an opportunity to experience it.

It didn’t take long for Craig and the other volunteers to fall in love with the work.

“Words can’t express watching a child catch their first fish, big fish, or the anticipation in their eyes as they are hunting, and the tears of happiness in a mother’s face,” he said.

“The bonds created through the volunteers and kids is so cool to watch. The wonderment on the kids’ faces is priceless. It’s overwhelmingly rewarding.”

Craig Politte

Beyond providing kids with a positive role model in their lives, the group also is empowering the next generation of conservationists.

“We need to continue our outdoor heritage,” Craig said.

Every outing is tailored to each child’s interest, as well as the time of year, to ensure a positive experience. Many of the activities take place in conservation areas and state parks. KMDO also works with other conservation partners, such as Quail Forever, and has its first fishing derby scheduled for October, at August A. Busch Memorial Conservation Area near St. Louis.

Grant from Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s helps expand participation

Thanks to a new grant from the Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s Outdoor Fund, the group is expanding to offer even greater access.

Goals for the future include expanding the work regionally, and as far-reaching as possible throughout the United States.

“We believe the more we grow and connect with great organizations, the possibilities will be endless,” Craig said.

Ahead of their outdoor adventure, kids are presented with a gift card and a trip to their local Bass Pro Shops or Cabela’s, allowing them to select their own gear, giving them a sense of ownership and another layer of excitement as they prepare to get outdoors and pursue their passions.

“We are so excited to be working with Bass Pro Shops,” Craig said. “Obviously the stores have exactly what we need to provide these activities for them. We can’t thank Bass Pro Shops enough for being involved and supportive of the work for these youngsters.”

One of the best moments, Craig said, is seeing the typical reaction after getting to spend some time outdoors, of joy and genuine appreciation of nature.

“I want to do this again!”