A Texas-based foundation that aims to use the great outdoors as a means to give back to those in need, and to foster a love for all things rural recreation in youth who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity is taking root in the Permian Basin – seeing tremendous success in a series of events held this past weekend in Odessa.

The Trinity Oaks Foundation is a non-profit organization founded in 2007 that over time has impacted tens of thousands of people across Texas with its programs, which include making outdoor recreation activities available to kids who wouldn’t otherwise be able to have such experiences.

In particular, the Foundation takes kids of first responders and service members who have been killed in the line of duty on hunting trips and similar activities and provide mentorships under the supervision of adults who volunteer their time and expertise to ensure the kids learn the necessary skills to become accomplished outdoorsmen and women.

The weekend kicked off with a large evening gala fundraiser hosted by Odessa resident Bubba Saulsbury, who is an avid supporter of the program, and an accomplished outdoorsman.

Annual Trinity Oaks Foundation Dinner in Odessa

“God keeps blessing the organization with supporters like the Saulsbury’s,” Trinity Oaks founder Tom Snyder told the audience, continuing by describing how in 2019 the Foundation took over 3500 kids into the great outdoors and distributed over 100,000 pounds of game meat to people in need across Texas.  

Snyder described how he was inspired to establish Trinity Oaks because he wanted to be able to give back to those in need, and he found some existing organizations that help kids get involved in outdoor activities, he had an issue with all of them because they charged the kids to participate.

Other organizations like Make-A-Wish will not spend funds to support a wish to go hunting, which is a wish Trinity Oaks frequently steps in to fulfill.

In addition to being a long-time supporter, Saulsbury is helping the Foundation expand its footprint into the Permian Basin by supplying a roughly 80-acre property he is in the process of developing, complete with a several-acre fishing pond, shooting ranges, and ATV track, located just minutes north of Odessa that the Foundation is now using to introduce kids to a well-rounded outdoors experience, many for the first time.

200 enthusiastic kids were present Sunday morning for a series of introductory experiences the Foundation plans to routinely hold at the property.

The kids were broken into groups that were rotated to six different “stations” where under the supervision of experienced adults, learned how to use a kayak, shoot a 22-caliber rifle, a shotgun, learned about native and non-native wildlife species from biologists from Texas Parks and Wildlife, and received a presentation from Texas Game Wardens.

Wildlife Biologists with Texas Parks and Wildlife teachings kids about native and non-native wildlife species.

Many participants, with ages ranging from 9 to 15, indicated this was the first time they had ever shot a gun, paddled a kayak, or got to drive an ATV.

An instructor demonstrates archery techniques during the Trinity Oaks youth event in Odessa.

The day of outdoor activities came complete with equipment, instruction, and lunch – all at no cost.

It’s all about exposure to the outdoors, Bubba Saulsbury said, explaining how it’s all about getting future generations interested in the outdoors. “I’ve been excited because I haven’t seen a single kid on their cell phone during the event, which is a big thing after coming out of the pandemic.”  

Saulsbury said he plans to continue improving the property to make it a place for nearby Odessa-area youth to go camping, shooting, and learn essential outdoors skills.

Trinity Oaks officials were very pleased with the turnout and gave an example of one mother who had never been involved in outdoors activities herself before she saw information about the event on Facebook and signed her daughter up to participate – with both quickly discovering the program is something they want to be involved in so that they can get more involved in the great outdoors.

The Foundation also welcomes adults who are interested in volunteering their time and talent to help make the programs possible, and all-volunteer applicants must undergo a background check and vetting before being accepted to ensure the kids get the best instruction possible.

Those interested in learning more about or supporting the programs of Trinity Oaks Foundation can check out their website at www.trinityoaks.org.

Matt Stringer is a journalist from Odessa, Texas.