"It's Hard to Catch a Fish" and Other Lessons from a Quarter-Century of Volunteering

Tom and Richard by the Harlem Meer
Tom Griffing (left) and Richard Dahlia have been friends and fishing partners since Richard joined the Conservancy as a volunteer 10 years ago.

Tom Griffing and Richard Dahlia are the kind of friends who tend to talk at the same time. As one speaks, the other provides frequent affirmations like "absolutely" and "oh yes." The two met while volunteering for the Central Park Conservancy. "We're good Park friends," Tom said. "As a matter of fact I have a couple of very good Park friends."

Tom has been a Conservancy volunteer since 1995. Richard, the relative rookie, has volunteered for a decade. "Over the years it's been great," Richard said, "it's quite a friendship." They spend time in the Park together, and occasionally Richard comes over for dinner. "He's not the world's greatest cook," Tom laughed, "but he comes to dinner." Most of all, they fish together, both upstate and in Central Park. Tom and Richard are particularly fond of catch-and-release fly fishing in the Park. A fly fishing lure is entirely manmade and designed to emulate an insect, a "whole art in itself," according to Tom. Richard described fly fishing as a "performance." Tom explained, "You've got to entice that fish to take a phony bait… you have to draw it back in to imitate a fly or an insect that has landed on the water." In summary, Richard added, "It's hard to catch a fish."

As volunteers, the two are able to expand their passions for fishing by instructing others at the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center at the Harlem Meer. Most often, their students are 5 to 12-year-old school kids and camp-goers who come in groups. Though some of the younger ones spend more time tangled than cast, Richard said, "They do catch some things." They are passionate volunteers. "You'd be surprised how you develop a very strong sense of obligation as a volunteer over time," Tom said, "you meet people and they become dependent on you." Richard added, "Everybody's very supportive. ('Absolutely,' Tom agreed.) They're kind to each other. They understand your life too and what you're doing." Both described the Conservancy volunteer program as a "family."

In addition to volunteering for the Conservancy, Tom and Richard are Conservancy members. Richard was convinced to join when he saw how membership increased Tom's participation with the Park and the Conservancy, through members-only events and programs. Asked what they have gained most from their involvement with the Conservancy, Richard said, "I appreciate the Park much more." Tom added, "You learn a lot about the Park… the more you learn about the Park the more you will like it and want to do more. ('Yeah,' Richard agreed in rhythm.) Because you get involved."

For more information about volunteering in Central Park, click here. To learn more about catch-and-release fishing in the Park, click here.

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