2021 USW Cares District 9 Jefferson Award Winner, William “Bryen” Ballard

William “Bryen” Ballard has been a member of Local Union 1561 in Pace, Florida for the last 19 years that he’s worked in maintenance at an International Paper paper mill. He is president of the local since spring of this year, but was a steward and active member beforehand.

Ballard has two daughters, one is 17 and in college. His eldest daughter, Hailee, will be turning 20 soon; Hailee was born with a rare genetic syndrome that has never been diagnosed, but results in physical and mental disability: physically she is very small and she functions with the mentality of a four-year-old.

Because of his daughter’s disability, Ballard was introduced to a small charity called Seasons of Hope in Panama City, Florida. He volunteered with Seasons of Hope and was once asked to lead a big fundraiser. Although he didn’t stay with Seasons of Hope, Ballard found he had a knack for fundraising and a desire to do good.

“I thought to myself: I have a good job at the paper mill and I feel like I need to give back,” said Ballard. So, he started Sportsmen Givin’ Back.

Sportsmen Givin’ Back does three things: they fundraise (a lot of money) for other charities that are doing good work in their community, they conduct hunting and fishing outings for sick children and children with special needs, and they’re just starting their mentoring program for young adults who are interested in the outdoors but don’t have anybody to teach them.

This year, Sportsmen Givin’ Back’s fundraiser event celebrated 10 years and raised $95,000. The event pre-picks and vets charities to give money to: they had 11 charities this year. The event is held at a church and features Christian, outdoors speakers who are well-known authors or fishermen. This year’s speaker was a Duck Dynasty employee. They do silent auctions and host a big dinner with door prizes; about 750 people buy tickets every year. Chris Smith, owner of Gulf Coast guns, is huge donor and does a raffle with high-end guns as the prizes; 100 percent of the proceeds from his raffle go to Sportsmen Givin’ Back.

Sportsmen Givin Back also provides outdoor opportunities for sick or disabled children. Ballard works with the Special Needs Department of local schools to find kids who want to go on a fishing outing, and his local union brothers take the day off to be mentors, plus they have outside volunteers. Each kid is paired with an adult who teaches them how to bait a hook, cast a fishing pole, and throw a fish back into the water.

Ballard’s father died when he was 15 but he said that other men in his life stepped up for him, helping him fix his truck, taking him hunting and fishing; he wants to do the same for kids who want exposure to the outdoors. Plus, Ballard said that parents of sick or disabled children have all they can handle with their kids; these families don’t have the finances, ability, or time to teach their kids hunting and fishing, they’re taking care of everything else.

In January of this year, Ballard met a six-year-old boy named Wyatt Mixon. Wyatt had cancer and loved to hunt. Working around Wyatt’s chemotherapy schedule, Ballard, Wyatt and Wyatt’s father, Lincoln, spent the day together on a hunt.

“He was a pistol,” said Ballard, fondly. Sadly, Wyatt passed away about a month after their hunt, and Ballard wanted to memorialize his spirit and love for the outdoors: “all of the hunting opportunities are now named after him. Those are the Wyatt Mixon Memorial Hunts. We do a couple every year and as kids come to us.”

Sportsmen Givin Back started their youth mentoring program last year when a single mother went to Gulf Coast Guns inquiring about educational outdoors opportunities for her son; Chris Smith directed her to Sportsmen Givin’ Back.

“Covid took a lot of fathers,” said Ballard. Two children he knows personally lost their dads. His plan is to do for these kids what the men in his life did for him when his father died. “It’s one of the greatest things in life to be in the outdoors,” he said, and he doesn’t want any kids missing out because their fathers aren’t there anymore.

Men reach out to Ballard wanting to be a part of his outings and share their knowledge of the outdoors. “There are so many like-minded men out there who want to help and just don’t know how – I’ve got the knowledge to lead them in the right direction,” said Ballard.

“My family has been very supportive and the local and surrounding locals have given overwhelming support, financially and more. Sportsmen Givin’ Back is a team, and my name gets used more than it should,” said Ballard.

Ballard knows of organization that does therapy horse-back riding for special needs children and he found out that they need new, specialized saddle that costs $1,500. One day he told everyone at work about the situation, and his union brothers “started pulling dollar bills out their wallets. That’s how these guys are.”

“My brother works at a nonunion chemical plant and is in awe of the support that my guys in the union do for me,” said Ballard.

The last three years Sportsmen Givin’ Back has done a Christmas program supporting families through Life Options Clinic, a Christian-run organization that supports women and couples making decisions about pregnancy. They offer services, classes, and resources to people trying to learn how to be parents.

For the Christmas program, Sportsmen Givin Back buys presents for every member of 35 families, moms and dads included, and provides a full-course, homemade Christmas dinner to each family from a local restaurant.

For all of his work building a successful non-profit that has a far reach and supports so many people, in addition to the pride and appreciation he has for his union, William “Bryen” Ballard is District 9’s 2021 USW Cares Jefferson Award winner.

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