Members of the Bexley community are playing a prominent role in the effort to start a Flying Horse Farms camp for seriously ill children.

Members of the Bexley community are playing a prominent role in the effort to start a Flying Horse Farms camp for seriously ill children.

The camp will be an offshoot of the Hole in the Wall Camps started by actor Paul Newman, said Mark Bivenour, who works as the Flying Horse Farms camp's executive director in its office on East Broad Street.

There are currently five camps like this in the United States and six in other countries around the world, Bivenour said.

Organizers must raise around $20-million to start the camp, he said. "We're looking for any and all pledges."

The Flying Horse Farms campground will be located on 300 acres in Mount Gilead, Ohio, and include recreational spaces, a medical facility and dining and residential buildings.

Camp founders David and Jenni Belford of Bexley donated the land, valued at around $3-million. They own farmland adjacent to the property.

"My husband and I, many years ago, had a one-day event up at our farm in Mount Gilead and we had kids from the special wish organization," Jenni Belford said. "We saw how great it was to have these kids do these normal activities. It was really special for them."

Belford said she and her family decided they wanted to do more.

"We found out about the Paul Newman camps," Belford said. "We decided that we would find a way to do a full-time summer camp."

She said Newman visited the Mount Gilead site before he died in September.

Patrick Smith, the camp director, said he has been involved with camps for children with special needs since the late 1980s.

The camps give children with both lifelong and life-threatening diseases the chance "to be kids," he said. "Laughing is important to healing."

He said one of the most rewarding things he has seen while working at special-needs camps was a group of campers arguing over who would push their friend's wheelchair.

"They wear those experiences as badges of honor," Smith said.

Bivenour said organizers are planning to break ground in April. In the meantime, camp staff members and volunteers are working to raise funds, and Bivenour has been visiting hospitals around the Midwest to tell families of seriously ill children about the camp.

"It really starts with a grass-roots effort," Jenni Belford said. "We have the support of all the children's hospitals. We have to go in every community where we can serve these kids. There isn't another Hole in the Wall camp in the Midwest."

Belford said she, her husband and their four children, who attend Columbus School for Girls and Columbus Academy, are excited to help.

"Our family's role is whatever they need us to do. If it's taking out the trash, caring for the animals, it will be done," she said. "Our kids know that this is going to be a special place where kids come to be free of their problems."

For more information, visit www.flyinghorsefarms.org.

gmartineau

@thisweeknews.com