GDC Spotlight: Flying Horse Farms
MT GILEAD, Ohio —
There are no flying horses, but there are flying children... on ziplines! Swimming, boating, and singing songs are some of the other many activities happening every day at Flying Horse Farms.
Open since 2005, the camp is located in Mt. Gilead, just about an hour North of Downtown Columbus.
Mimi Dane, the CEO of Flying Horse Farms says the organization “provides transformative camping experiences for children with serious illnesses in their families.”
The camps during the Summer last a week long and they’re broken up by disease state.
Mimi explained, “We serve children with all forms of heart disease, including heart transplants, kids with all forms of cancer and blood disorders, children with severe asthma and pulmonary disease, children with craniofacial anomalies, and then children with arthritis and gastrointestinal disease, so each week is divided up based on that disease state.”
I visited during Hematology and Oncology Camp which is a week for campers with hematologic diseases including sickle cell disease, bleeding disorders, anemias, and cancer (currently in treatment or in remission).
Though they make sure the kids are completely safe thanks to a Wellnest, medical staff and volunteers, as well as partnerships through area hospitals - Mimi says the experience is NOT about their illness.
“It's the chance for them to be kids, but it's not just about fun. It's also about building resilience and self-confidence and independence.”
Mayah McKee is one of those kids.
Diagnosed with sickle cell as a child, she has been a camper for the past six years. This Summer she is back as a “Ranger”. (The Ranger Program is a service learning program for teenagers ages 16-17. They engage in service projects around camp that support camper activities and maintain camp facilities.)
Mayah says her favorite thing about camp is, “just being able to be myself and do what I like to do. Arts and crafts, archery, play with the dogs. It's fun.”
Dani Grosh is the Assistant Director of Staff and her “fun title” is talent scout and community keeper. She told me she gets great feedback from campers and their parents. She shared one story in particular.
"There was a camper who] came with his father for family camp. We were like, "We have this awesome ropes course. We could really get you up there." He uses a wheelchair and his dad was kind of like, "No way. There's no way that he's going to do that." We have this adaptive gear and we kind of simulated it for his father so that he could feel what his son would feel like when he was on the course. With his father's blessing, we went through this with his son and he had a successful experience on our zipline and our ropes course. Then that whole experience in itself kind of let his dad know to trust us. He came back for a full session in the summer without his parents.
This year, I think it was his second or third year. He went out on a canoe for the first time. He doesn't do a lot of activities outside of his wheelchair. He was talking to his mom about that and he decided that, after camp, he wanted to ride a roller coaster. That experience really transcends outside of camp. He just realized that he really can do things and he's capable and his confidence grew. That is a transformation that we love to see. That happens with all of the kids who come to Flying Horse Farms."
Part of Dani’s job is to work with the volunteers, and there are a LOT of them at Flying Horse Farms - they had 50,000 volunteer hours last year alone. I asked Dani what’s the most rewarding thing about her job and she said it was seeing campers, who have aged out of the program, come back as volunteers and staff members.
“That's been a really rewarding experience, just to kind of see their shift from, ‘what camp can do for me,’ for, ‘what I can do for camp. How can I serve camp?’"
Eryn Powell is one of those campers turned seasonal staff members.
She reflected on her time at camp saying that after she came, she never wanted to leave.
“Camp really became my second home and there's really nothing more that you can do then give back to the other campers. There's a magic about this place and when I was a camper here, I was a steward of that magic and letting it help me, heal me when I needed it most. As a counselor, my job is to pass that magic onto the next group of campers that need it.”
She was also diagnosed with sickle cell so this week, in particular, she is able to relate to the campers in a real way.
“It's great being able to walk up to the medicine line and take the exact same medicine as the kids that are in my cabin. It’s one of the greatest things you'll ever see because they're like, ‘Oh, you're on the same medicine I am’ [For some,] it's that first time when they're like, ‘Oh look, there's somebody else who goes through it too and they're doing just fine.’"
Yale University did a study to reveal the impact residential camp has on the lives of campers coping with serious illnesses. They surveyed 645 families from five "Serious Fun" camps including Flying Horse Farms and found that (no surprise here!) the experience can be transforming.
Mimi explained, “Yale did a study of our campers through the summer and then for a year following it, and over 75-80% of our campers showed greater self-confidence, self-independence, self-esteem, willingness to try new things, based on the transformation that happens at camp.”
All of this at no cost to the families!
So how can you help Flying Horse Farms? Mimi says, there are a multitude of ways.
“Number 1, spreading the word. If you know a family who has a child with a serious illness, tell them about us so that family can come here.
We also need financial support. It is critical for us to raise the money so that we can serve more and more campers.
"My dream for Flying Horse Farms is to stuff as many kids in these cabins as we can to give those kids an opportunity to be children, to build some confidence, and get away from their illness for a week at a time."
You can learn more about Flying Horse Farms by visiting their website: http://flyinghorsefarms.org/