Flying Horse Farms - Where Camp Is Good Medicine

By Janet Kehres

If you ever want to see God’s work first hand, make a visit to the Flying Horse Farms near Mt. Gilead.  

Flying Horse Farms provides magical, transformative camp experiences for children with serious illnesses and their families-free of charge.  This camp began in 2010 and hosts about 850 children and families each year.  They are funded by gifts from individuals, corporate partners and foundations.

According to the Flying Horse Farm’s magazine, the network was founded in 1988 by actor, philanthropist and Ohio native Paul Newman. The Network is a community of independently managed and financed camps and programs creating opportunities for children with serious illnesses and their families.  The Network has evolved from one camp to a global community serving 600,000 children and families across five continents.

The Flying Horse Farm was inspired by a Columbus couple, Jenni and David Belford after hosting a one-day event for kids from a special wish organization at their Mt. Gilead farm.  The couple witnessed firsthand the difference this type of experience could make in the lives of these children and their families.  So they founded Flying Horse Farms, which is now a proud member of SeriousFun Children’s Network.

Children from ages 8 to 17 and their families, from across Ohio and beyond are served at the Flying Horse Farm.

The children have medical conditions including cancer, heart conditions, rheumatoid arthritis, blood disorders, asthma, gastrointestinal disorders and cranial anomalies.

Numerous activities keep the campers active, according to the organization, according to Kristy Eckert, Chief Camp Communications Officer.  From swimming in a swimming pool, fishing, boating, a high-flying ropes course, zip line, a sport court, a canine corral, archery lessons, crafts and more.  Song fests are a highlight at different times of the day.  The students also have a “siesta” time to slow down and gather energy for the next exciting experience.  Time is allowed for freedom and exploration, like walking the paths, playing cards, tossing a football or just relaxing in the rocking chairs.

The camp has taken a more proactive approach to address campers’ psychosocial needs, which can include anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, ADD/ADHD, autism and other challenges, Eckert added. The camp asks deeper psychosocial questions on camper applications.  Camp experts then thoroughly and extensively explore each camper’s psychosocial needs, reaching out to parents, doctors, teachers, school counselors and social workers.  They then, create plans for each camper, pairing them with aptly skilled counselors and fellow campers.  Flying Horse Farms Child Life Specialist Kristen “Cricket” Capadona lives at camp all summer and specializes in working with children with serious illnesses.

According to the organization, the camp is equipped with a hospital on site with an ER room, sick room, time to relax room, a doctor that specializes in the particular illness of the week and a full time nurse, she added. The camp has a large dining hall, three villages in one (the little village is for 8-9 year old the middle village is for 10-13 year olds, and the big village is for the 14-17 year olds).  They have a beautiful amphitheater, a dock with numerous boats (including one that is impossible to flip over), a teepee campsite for the much older campers to spend one night and a recreation hall full of lots of arts and crafts.

In the dining hall is the “Gratitude Wall,” Eckert noted.  The students can make little notes of what they are grateful for and put it on the wall.

Mimi Dane ( a former attorney) is the CEO of Flying Horse Farms.  Dani Grosh (Assistant Camp Director) met her husband at the camp, Eckert said.  He is now Facilities Director of the grounds.

The love for children and the camp was shown with pride and joy by all the staff of the facility.

Each week children with the a type of illness attend. One recent weekend it was the week for cranial anomalies. There is a different doctor at the campgrounds each week that specializes in that particular illness for the  week, Eckert said. There is also a nurse (Marrissa Gaile) on the grounds at all times.

There are also “family weekends” where a family that has lived with a child with a particular illness and is a 24 hour caregiver to that child gets to go to the camp.  The child is active at the camp and the family gets a brief period of relaxation, Eckert explained. This also gives families a place to reconnect, meet new friends facing similar situations and relax. Many families are touched by this camp and become future volunteers and/or contributors to such a worthy organization.

In life sometimes sorrow can happen.  Some campers pass away between the yearly camp date.  Campers, who want to decorate two stones in memory of a camper met in previous years at the camp can do so voluntarily.  One is theirs to keep.  The other, they carry to the camp’s amphitheater.  There they share memories of the deceased camper and then toss the rock into the lake, so a memorial of the camper they are honoring can live at the camp forever.  According to Cricket Capadona, Child Life Specialist at the camp, “This gives them time to mourn with their peers and time to talk about their loss.”

Some of the “partners” for this camp are: Akron Children’s Hospital, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital, Dayton Children’s Hospital, Mercy Children’s Hospital, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, ProMedica Children’s Hospital, University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital and Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

Ohio State University sends interns majoring in nursing, social work, agricultural, medical dietetics to the camp to learn valuable experiences, Eckert noted.

Once someone visits this camp, they are often compelled to either volunteer their services and/or donate to such a worthwhile project.  Eckert noted a gentleman that was volunteering a week of his time because he had lost a child who had previously attended the camp.  This gentleman is a CEO of a large corporation, she said.  The magic of this camp transforms the hearts and minds of every child, family, volunteer and donor who passes through its gates.

To receive updates about this amazing camp go to website or contact them at 419-751-7077.

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