For Saul and Ayden Calderon, it was an unforgettable experience. The elementary school brothers got to see dolphins up close and stare into the eyes of live shrimp that Ayden assumed didn't like the idea of being used for bait.
"The shrimp were looking at us right in the eye before we put them on the pole. I was freaked out about it," said 8-year-old Ayden, a third-grader at Kinnan Elementary School.
The brothers were the first to take advantage of a new program run by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Manatee County in conjunction with Cortez Water Sports.
Never miss a local story.
Under the direction of Danny Nemeth, Cortez Water Sports is offering a free day out on the water to the participants in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
"Me and owner John Cadmus got together and decided we wanted to do something to give back to the community," Nemeth said. "Our kids grew up on the dock, and we saw what a positive impact it made on their lives. We wanted to show this to kids who have never been on the boats and give them a chance to see all those dolphins close up and go fishing. The Big Brothers and Sisters are donating their time on lot of projects and we wanted to help them out."
Renting a boat and getting the bait and equipment would normally cost more than $250, but Cortez Water Sports is supplying everything at no charge.
"It was great," said 9-year-old Saul, a fourth-grader at Kinnan. "It was the first time I've ever been on a boat. I was a little nervous that we would hit a rock or something, but it was fun. We went to a sand forest. I would do it again; maybe next time we could get to ride some dolphins."
Ayden admits he was a little nervous, but he looks forward to doing it again.
"That was the first time I was out in the water. It was a little scary. I was afraid there were sharks that would eat our heads off," Ayden said. "It turned out to be fun. We went to a sandbar, and I found a starfish. I learned the water can be a lot colder than you expect."
Bart Bania, Ayden's big brother, said being out on a boat also offers the chance for to bond with his little brother and talk about things they might not in a typical setting.
"It was different than the usual things we do and them (Cortez Water Sports) providing everything we needed and instructions on how to use the equipment was really helpful," Bania said. "They told us the best places to fish and best places to see the dolphins."
Emily Sauerbier could tell by the looks on her two sons that it was a thoroughly enjoyable day that gave the boys a new experience.
"It was really cool because the whole day was free and they supplied everything the boys needed," Sauerbier said. "It was good for the big brothers because a lot of time they are spending their own money to take the kids somewhere."
Wanda Burke of Big Brothers Big Sisters said she expects more children to partake in the outing as word gets out about how much fun everyone had.
"Danny's generosity was outstanding. It offers a new horizon to some of these children. We are very thankful and see a lot more of the kids participating in this," Burke said.
Nemeth said he started to get more calls once the word got out about the program and he expects a lot more kids to get involved.
"We are just trying to give back to the community," Nemeth said. "I have been here for 20 years, and I have kids who grew up here and my son is now a captain who does tours for us. Being out on the water is an experience you don't want these kids to miss."