By Brandon Walker EBS STAFF
BOZEMAN – Virtual events taking the place of traditional in-person gatherings have become commonplace as a result of COVID-19. Organizations are doing everything in their power to carry on traditions in whatever form possible, and such is the case with Bozeman-based Warriors and Quiet Waters. The nonprofit organization provides combat veterans that served after 9/11 with alternative healing methods for their experiences, mainly in the form of fly fishing trips, and in August COVID-19 forced the cancelation of their most popular fundraiser: Warrior Taste Fest.
In 2019, Warrior Taste Fest raised around $300,000 for WQW, drawing more than 600 people to the Bozeman fairgrounds, according to WQW Executive Director Brian Gilman. The cancelation of Warrior Taste Fest left WQW with a large fundraising void to fill, so Gilman and his team went to work brainstorming alternative fundraising ideas. The fruits of their labor yielded: The Five Days of Giving.
WQW’s Five Days of Giving fundraiser is a virtual auction featuring various items and paintings up for bid from the likes of Kevin Red Star, John Potter, Brooke Wetzel and Jodi Monahan, to name a few participating artists.
The event began Sept. 25, as viewers and potential bidders had the opportunity to watch the artists work via livestream. Now, the paintings—available to view in-person at the Bozeman Art Museum between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.—and other auction items are awaiting bids with bidding scheduled to close at 6 p.m. on Sept. 30.
“We’re continuing to serve veterans in the ways that we always have, having the same impact that we’ve always had on them throughout this crisis,” Gilman said. “The Five Days of Giving is … the best effort we can do in terms of a virtual fundraiser to help us fund and pay for our operations for the rest of the year.” He noted that WQW’s fundraising goal for the Five Days of Giving is $90,000.
Gilman and his team at WQW have faced many challenges due to COVID-19, but they have adapted every step of the way. When Montana was under stay-at-home orders, WQW began offering virtual fly fishing trips to veterans as an alternative to their traditional river trips. Additionally, the organization began focusing their efforts to serve primarily regional and other veterans within the state of Montana.
“Really excited about what the team has been able to do given the challenges that COVID has presented us,” he said.
Big Sky local Carlye Luft served eight years in the armed forces and experienced a WQW fly fishing trip firsthand. Luft was thankful that WQW guides never once asked her about her service time while she was on her all female trip.
“It changed my career. It changed the way that I live my life. It changed my outlook on life, my mood—just everything for the better for me,” she said.
Also known as Dr. Luft, the Wisconsin native moved to Bozeman in 2015 before settling in Big Sky three years later, practicing naturopathic medicine at Mountain Restorative Health. After her experience on the water with WQW, Luft sought a career change as she reconnected with her love for fishing.
“I think the work they’re doing is amazing,” she said. “Like I said I’ve come across other programs for veterans and I’ve just never experienced one quite like Warriors and Quiet Waters.”
Luft is now an independent fly fishing guide and a Director of the Montana Women’s Fly Fishing School. She hopes to become a volunteer fishing guide for WQW in the future.
“I don’t think it would’ve happened if I didn’t do that trip,” she said referencing her career change.
Visit wqw.givesmart.com to view and bid on the auction items.