Back in 2003, Molly Reeser was a sophomore at Michigan State University who loved to ride horses and teach horseback riding lessons. Each week at the barn, she would see a young girl stop by to help walk, groom and simply talk to the horses. None of this would have normally made too much of an impact, except that this particular young girl, Casey Foote, was battling brain and bone cancer. Sadly, Casey lost her fight with cancer that year, but in her memory and through her inspiration Camp Casey was born.
Camp Casey is a horseback riding program that was created to lift the spirits of young kids battling cancer. This grassroots organization was started by Molly Reeser and was designed to assist cancer patients and their families during their battle with this terrible disease. Originally supposed to be a one-day event at Sparrow Hospital, Camp Casey has grown into something pretty incredible. It is now an ongoing therapeutic horse program for kids battling cancer throughout all of Michigan.
Run by a 4 person, part-time staff, Camp Casey offers two different programs for pediatric cancer patients. One is their Cowboy Campouts. These are all expense paid, fun-filled weekend getaways at Dude ranches in Michigan. Two ranches participate in these weekends. The Double J Ranch in Rothbury, just north of Muskegon, MI, and the Black River Farm & Ranch in Crowswell, MI, just outside of Port Huron. Patients, their parents and siblings are invited to stay the weekend at one of the ranches. There they can ride the horses, help take care of them and learn all they can about ranch life. Both facilities also have a wide array of other farm animals to see and interact with as well. Throughout the course of the weekend, the children get a real sense of ranch life and also get to fulfill almost every kid’s dream of riding horses!
Another great aspect of the Cowboy Campouts is that there are usually about 10 different families participating. Since Camp Casey takes families at various stages of treatment, it creates a bond and camaraderie amongst the families. As Lauren Maiman, Camp Casey’s Director of Public Relations, explains, “You might have one family that has just received news of the diagnosis and another family that is two years out of treatments. They can talk about their worries and fears and what to expect.” In this way, the families are able to share many of the feelings they are experiencing and get a sense that they are not alone in their fight.
The second program that Camp Casey offers is their Horsey House Calls. Originally, this program was designated for kids that were too sick to leave their house or had immune system complications. However, it has become much more. For larger families and those that cannot go away for an entire weekend, this is the perfect program. Camp Casey takes their resident horse, Moe, who is housed at a barn in Novi, anywhere within a 1 hour driving distance to visit the patient at their home. The child gets to see Moe and ride him (if they are up for it). They are also taught about grooming, tacking up and general horse husbandry. In addition, Camp Casey brings supplies for an arts and craft project (usually a frame to put that perfect picture of them and Moe in) the kids can work on while their siblings and others are riding Moe. They also order pizzas for a fun pizza party lunch.
The Horsey House calls serve a very important purpose for the patients and their families. For the children, it creates a sense of empowerment. Most of these kids have lost a lot of control in their lives. From doctors’ appointments to chemo, they are not able to control what is happening to them. However, when they climb up onto big Moe for a ride and the control shifts back into their hands via the reins, it gives them something they can build on. Some kids can be a bit scared at first. However, through the gentleness of Moe and the guidance of the Camp Casey staff, the kids conquer that fear and get riding. Maiman talks of how the kids “can then hopefully take that extra sense of courage and apply it to their battle with cancer”. For many patients, Moe is just the medicine they need to lift their spirits and help with their fight.
The Horsey House Calls are also very important for the parents and siblings of the patient as well. Many times, the siblings of a cancer patient can feel very left out. Not that they are resentful to their brother or sister who are ill, but that they are not getting as much attention as they need. Camp Casey works very hard to ensure that siblings are shown how important they truly are. As for the parents, often times their child’s cancer diagnosis completely turns their world upside down. Sometimes it is even harder on the parents then the kids. Maiman explains, “Most of the kids don’t even care that they are sick. It really affects the parents more and we see the kids comforting them.” Bringing Moe to the home of the family takes a lot of pressure off of the parents. Camp Casey does all the work and the families get something they desperately need; time together as a family, enjoying each other and building memories. It is a wonderful thing to be able to give back to these children and their families that have such a tough battle so early in life.
Camp Casey runs from May 1 through September 1. Though they might go out a bit earlier or later in the year, weather permitting, these are their scheduled dates of operation.
For more information about Camp Casey, please visit www.camp-casey.org. For all camper inquires, please contact Danielle at (877) 388-8315 or email her at Danielle@camp-casey.org. If you would like to donate to Camp Casey, please visit their website and there is a paypal link on the front page where you can make a donation. You can help kids conquer cancer one neigh at a time!