Group gives kids with cancer horseback riding experience

Camp Casey settles into new office in Royal Oak

By: Jeremy Carroll | Royal Oak Review | Published February 1, 2011

 Jacob Pesta of Commerce rides Moe during a “horsey house call” by the nonprofit group Camp Casey, which recently opened a Royal Oak office.

Jacob Pesta of Commerce rides Moe during a “horsey house call” by the nonprofit group Camp Casey, which recently opened a Royal Oak office.

Photo provided by Camp Casey

Advertisement

ROYAL OAK — For eight years, Camp Casey, a nonprofit organization aimed at giving kids with cancer an unforgettable time horseback riding, was organized out of wherever the group’s members could meet.

“We would meet at coffeehouses all the time, but it was really hard to manage with paperwork and files,” said Molly Reeser, the group’s founder and executive director.

Then the group, which helps children not just in the metro area but across the state, was featured on the “TODAY” show in a segment during the summer of 2010, and donations soon after started to come in larger numbers.

Camp Casey, which helps approximately 200 kids a year, recently opened a small office at 333 W. Seventh St. in Royal Oak.

“We are really excited about having this space,” said Lauren Maiman, who heads the organization’s public affairs.

Camp Casey started when Reeser, 28, of Ferndale was a student at Michigan State University and met Casey Foote, a young girl with cancer. Reeser was teaching horseback riding and got to know Foote before she died just shy of her 13th birthday in 2003.

“I wanted to do something to honor her,” Reeser said.

A one-day outing with various children from Sparrow Hospital in East Lansing was planned. It went well, but that was as far as Reeser figured it would go — until one boy wrote to thank them.

“He wrote a letter and said he wanted to thank us for the best day of his life,” Reeser said. “So I thought, ‘Well, we could do another one next month.’”

After graduating from MSU, Reeser began to team up with Maiman, 26, of Beverly Hills and Amy Gill, who were also horseback riding teachers, and they began to fundraise.

Up until 2007, the group would have one-time events for kids with cancer, but things changed when a former jumping horse, Moe, was offered to the group for their use. That is when “horsey house calls” began.

“We organize it with the parents, but we knock on the door, and there’s a horse on your doorstep,” Reeser said.

Gill, 31, of Ferndale makes approximately 20 horsey house calls a summer and said the kids, often never having been horseback riding before, find the experience thrilling. It’s also a great time for the rest of the family, she said.

“It really pulls them together as a family and really focuses them for one day on nothing except having fun,” Gill said.

Gill, the group’s equine director and a certified horseback riding instructor by the North American Handicapped Riders Association, said Moe, a 14-year-old horse, is a perfect match for the group.

“We’ve had dogs chase at us barking, but it doesn’t faze him,” Gill said. “He has a passion and he knows his job.”

The group also has several Cowboy Campout events each year, where families are brought out to either Double J Ranch or Black River Farm for the weekend, completely free of charge.

Reeser said these events typically become not only a great experience for the kids, but also a chance for parents and families to bond with other families going through many of the same things.

Camp Casey also uses donations from various organizations to give kids and their families experiences outside of horseback riding. Maiman said, for example, they would be taking a group of girls to get their nails done, to visit Moe briefly and then head to a preliminary round of the Miss Michigan pageant, where they will get front-row seats.

For more information on Camp Casey, visit them online at www.camp-casey.org.

Advertisement