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CCU Atheneum: Steven Vanden Heuvel helps a youngster from Carolina Forest Elementary catch his first fish at Thompson Farm pond.
Steven Vanden Heuvel helps a youngster from Carolina Forest Elementary catch his first fish at Thompson Farm pond.

CCU student teaches area kids to fish

by Mona Prufer
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After Coastal Carolina University student Steven Vanden Heuvel spent six months at an internship for Rolls Royce in Ohio in 2014, he realized that, while he appreciated what he learned there, he wanted more.

“For eight hours a day, I just sat there at a computer,” says Vanden Heuvel, a senior finance major and Wall Fellow. “I realized I hadn’t really improved anyone’s life. I decided when I got back to Coastal, I would do something to impact the community and the school.”

Last spring, Vanden Heuvel came up with the idea to start Carolina Kids Fish, a program that gives elementary and middle school children in Horry County an opportunity to learn how to fish. The first step is an angler certification class, where kids are taught how to tie knots, bait their hooks, cast lines and, finally, fish in a pond (well-stocked by Vanden Heuvel) at Thompson Farm on Bucksville Drive in Conway.

Vanden Heuvel, who was diagnosed with severe-to-profound hearing loss as a child, came up with the camp as his “give-back” project for the Wall Fellows program.

“It combines my three passions—fishing, kids and teaching,” says the young man from Houston, Texas, who first came to CCU as a football player. He fell in love with his business studies and gave up football to devote himself to academics.

The youngest of three boys in a family of “over-achievers,” (his mom is a retired corporate lawyer, dad is a retired sales executive, one brother is a professional golfer and the other is a lawyer) Vanden Heuvel grew up with a fishing rod in his hand. He fondly recalls fishing in a canal in his backyard. He’d like for other children to have the same experiences that he had as a boy. “If I can be that first spark that turns a kid onto fishing, that makes all the difference in my life,” says Vanden Heuvel.

He works with three different groups: Lakewood Elementary, third through fifth graders; kids from the community ages 8 to 11; and Forestbrook Middle School students, grades 6-8.

Julia Benton, a special education teacher at Forestbrook Middle School, has not only worked with Vanden Heuvel and witnessed his classes, but, as a single parent, she and her twins have participated in them.

“Steven has brought students from the three grades together to show them how to place a worm on a hook at Thompson Farm, then [go] all the way to Murrells Inlet to show them how to cut pieces of fish to attract sharks for shark fishing,” she says. “While waiting for the sharks, he taught them to use a net to catch small ocean fish. The parents would sit and watch, but there were a few who would pick a rod, and Steven was there to guide and teach.”

Vanden Heuvel has set up the fishing program with officers who will continue it after he graduates in May. Volunteers from CCU’s fishing club, the Saltwater Anglers, will assist students with the program, which also addresses safety and conservation.

To start the program, Vanden Heuvel raised money through online crowd sourcing and collected $2,000 in the first month from CCU faculty, family and friends. It was enough to buy rods, reels and lures and to stock the pond at Thompson’s with sun fish, bass and catfish. The fish caught are nearly always released.

During the sessions of teaching and fishing, Vanden Heuvel has formed relationships with the kids and their parents.

Benton, who works with Vanden Heuvel as a parent and special ed teacher, describes him as patient and kind-hearted.

“Steven has really brought a lot to my twins,” she says. “Being a single parent, I was unable to teach them how to fish, and he brought them something they love. This is one thing they look forward to. One child [at the school] is autistic, and Steven still is right there for him and respects him as if he was no different than anyone else and guides him like he has done this all his life. I thank him every day. Steven is a great human being and is a blessing in our eyes.”

“It’s been really exciting for me to see the growth of these kids as they learn and can fish for themselves,” he says, crediting the Wall Fellows program with giving him the tools and confidence he needed to make his program a reality.

“Being a leader is not about you, but what you can be for other people.”

Vanden Heuvel graduates magna cum laude May 6 with a bachelor’s degree in finance. He has completed internships at Castex Energy Inc., H&N Media and Rolls Royce. He belongs to the Financial Management Association Club and Investments Club, and he is the former president of CCU’s Saltwater Anglers.

His honors include Residence Hall Association Student of the Month, March 2013; three semesters on the President’s List (Fall 2011, Fall and Spring 2013); and Young Life summer staff (2013), a Christian camp for children.

Vanden Heuvel has already started applying for jobs in advance of graduation this May. His plan is to find a good company that nurtures and cares for its employees. He ultimately would like to be a chief financial officer. “I aspire to the business philosophy that if you care about your people, they’ll take care of your clients.”

Google, which employs more than 18,800 people in the U.S., would be his dream employer because the culture promotes an environment that he feels he could thrive in.

Anyone interested in signing up for the Carolina Kids Fish can follow the Facebook page by that name, or email the current vice president, Frances Bozak, at fkbozak@coastal.edu.

 

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