Flying Horse Farms Builds Resiliency for Kids with Serious Illnesses
Going to camp is a core memory for many kids — or, at least, it should be. Flying Horse Farms exists to make that dream a reality for children living with serious illnesses. Complete with a state-of-the-art medical facility and 24/7 care services from a full-time team, Flying Horse Farms lets kids live life to the fullest, free of charge.
Going to camp is a core memory for many children. Or, at least, it should be.
But if you’re a kid with a G-tube for supplemental feeding or a pre-teen with cancer and a chemo port, spending a week away from family to enjoy crackling campfires and archery contests may seem like a far-fetched dream.
Thankfully, Flying Horse Farms in Mt. Gilead, Ohio, exists to make that dream a reality for adolescents across the Midwest, and CoverMyMeds is proud to support Flying Horse Farms as a community partner in that mission.
Exploring the backstory of Flying Horse Farms
According to the organization’s website, Flying Horse Farms is a magical, transformative camp that makes it possible for children with serious illnesses to heal, grow and thrive. Established in 2010, it’s part of Paul Newman’s SeriousFun family of camps that help children see beyond the limits of their medical conditions and experience all life can offer.
In addition to 200 beautiful acres located between Columbus and Cleveland, Flying Horse Farms features a lake, pool and Big Red Barn to explore — plus a state-of-the-art medical facility and 24/7 care services from a full-time medical team.
Dani Wilkinson, chief mission officer and camp director, started working at Flying Horse Farms as an intern back in 2012. Over the past 10 years, she’s served in a variety of roles and has witnessed the camp’s exponential growth into the holistic healing center it is today.
“We currently serve about 75-90 campers per session, with six sessions every summer,” Dani said. “We also host family camps every spring and fall. Campers who age out of Flying Horse Farms can enter a servant leadership program for 15- to 17-year-olds, then a Trailblazer program for 17- to 21-year-olds.”
Specifically, the Trailblazer program teaches its participants how to transition from adolescence into adulthood and includes life lessons such as how to grocery shop on a budget and change a car’s flat tire.
We want our campers to feel a true sense of belonging at Flying Horse Farms — like they’re all connected through their shared experiences.
Keeping Flying Horse Farms free for families
Rachel Escusa, external relations lead, has worked at Flying Horse Farms since January of 2019. Like many nonprofits, Rachel said Flying Horse Farms relies on donations to keep its experiences free for kids and their families. On average, it costs about $2,500 to send one kid to camp. With 75-90 campers per session and six sessions per summer, that’s more than $1.35 million for one summer season alone.
“The families we serve are already living with trauma from managing serious illnesses — on top of the financial strain that often accompanies such care,” Rachel said. “We see kids from all walks of life attend camp — some come with a suitcase full of supplies, others come with a little less.”
Of note, Flying Horse Farms provides everything campers need for a comfortable stay, including linens, towels and food. Camp also works with a local nonprofit, Snuggled in Hope, to provide a handmade quilt for every kid to take home.
“We want our campers to feel a true sense of belonging at Flying Horse Farms — like they’re all connected through their shared experiences,” Rachel said. “That’s why it’s essential to break down as many barriers as possible so they can attend camp.”
To help do so, Flying Horse Farms just hosted its annual fundraising event, Campfire 2022, on Oct. 7. Campfire is an opportunity for Flying Horse Farms to showcase and celebrate its facilities — including Angie’s Arts & Crafts, HappyTimes Woodshop, a ropes course, archery range and fishing hole.
Campfire 2022’s sponsorship packages ranged from $1,000 to $50,000, with the goal of raising $750,000 to support camp operations. As of publishing, they’ve garnered over $751,000 in well-deserved donations from the event.
We probably caught 200 fish that day, so it was very busy — the kids’ faces were just lighting up. It was a special experience, for sure.
Individuals can volunteer with Flying Horse Farms, too
Beyond events like Campfire 2022, Flying Horse Farms also gets assistance from volunteers who donate their time to help ensure the camp’s ongoing success. Todd Swenson, VP of technology, governance, risk and compliance at CoverMyMeds, has been active on Flying Horse Farm’s board of directors since 2020.
“After two years at CoverMyMeds, I realized I wanted to get more involved from a purpose perspective, so I approached Kate Bauer — our senior manager of community engagement — to see what opportunities were available,” Todd said. “Kate knows I have three kids of my own and I love being outdoors, in nature, so she immediately recommended Flying Horse Farms.”
After taking a tour of the camp, Todd was hooked.
As a member of Flying Horse Farms’ board of directors, Todd meets with the nonprofit’s leadership team on a quarterly basis to discuss its operations and finances. By doing so, he helps ensure the positive trajectory of Flying Horse Farms’ business model, and he makes recommendations on how they invest resources into future projects.
Additionally, Todd recently teamed up with 20 of his CoverMyMeds colleagues to clean Flying Horse Farms’ bunkhouses before campers arrived for a week of fun. He also volunteered at one of the camp’s summer sessions on fishing duty.
“Oh wow, that was great — I got to put on all the worms and unhook all the fish,” Todd said. “We probably caught 200 fish that day, so it was very busy — the kids’ faces were just lighting up. It was a special experience, for sure.”
What’s next on the agenda for Flying Horse Farms?
On the horizon for Flying Horse Farms is putting a more prominent emphasis on mental health and wellness as a primary diagnosis for campers. Currently, Dani’s team is focusing their efforts on exploring partnerships with local schools to help make that happen in 2023.
“We’re positioning ourselves as the leader in mental health by providing high-quality psycho-social services,” Dani said. “In 2021, 40% of our campers had a co-occurring mental health condition, so we’re helping to alleviate the mental health epidemic in Ohio and beyond — especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Of course, launching a brand-new effort will require assistance from volunteers like Todd. Dani said that currently, Flying Horse Farms has room for 800 volunteers per year for its camp programs. For CoverMyMeds employees specifically interested in lending a hand or even just taking a tour of camp, Todd has some advice.
“If you ever get a chance to get involved with Flying Forms Farms, do it — seeing the impact this place has on kids, bringing utter joy to their faces, is a feeling like no other,” Todd said. “Without CoverMyMeds, I probably wouldn’t have discovered Flying Horse Farms — we truly create space for our people to give back to organizations that do good.”
To know that Flying Horse Farms helped make that pivotal moment happen — that was the most rewarding feeling. That’s the magic of camp.
A place to make life-changing memories, year after year
One of Rachel’s favorite things about her job at Flying Horse Farms is seeing kids return to camp year after year.
“It’s always great to see kids come back — to see their growth over time,” Rachel said. “Not only do they grow physically, but their confidence grows, as well. The first year they may be shy and homesick. The second year they’re leading other campers around, showing off everything we have to offer.”
Dani agrees. Over her 10-year career at Flying Horse Farms, she’s watched kids grow up before her eyes. There’s one camper who stands out in her memory — a boy living with sickle cell disease.
“He started coming to camp at eight, and when he was 13, I watched him swim across our pool by himself,” Dani said.
That’s a significant accomplishment since sickle cell disease makes it difficult to regulate your body temperature. But thanks to Flying Horse Farms’ specialized warming shed and medical professionals on staff, he was able to accomplish a feat other kids typically take for granted.
“It was just him and some lifeguards by the pool,” Dani said. “He did it while everyone else was having quiet time in their cabins. He was so proud. To know that Flying Horse Farms helped make that pivotal moment happen — that was the most rewarding feeling. That’s the magic of camp.”
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