Friday, April 25, 2014

JACOB'S FUND :: McKenna Farms Spring Mission Trip 2013 (part 3)

Friday: Coffee’s on early. 

Eager to get to work, we opt for doughnuts and fruit for breakfast. 

We step outside to find Tony, one of the young recipients of a ridership from Jacob’s Fund, on a horse in the outdoor arena. He sees us and rides our way to say hello. It’s a thrill for us. We’ve met and talked to Tony several times, and he recognized us right away!

Tony & Pumpkin
On a trailer at the edge of the parking lot are thirty bales of pine straw. We place the bales at intervals around the sides of the farmhouse, don our gloves and begin work. This morning‘s forecast puts the chance of rain tomorrow at seventy percent. Wilma declares that won’t happen. Still, we’re determined to get as much pine straw mulch down as possible.

But Cameron and Landon are here, along with their mom! These twins were silent and Landon was in tears the last time I saw them. Now, they are thriving, thanks to hippotherapy. 

By the time we break for lunch the sun is high and hot. As we eat, McKenna Farm's Director Jessie and I are on our cell phones checking the weather once again. The chance of rain tomorrow is down to sixty percent. Wilma just smiles.

Candace and her mom pull into the parking lot as we finish lunch. You may remember Candace, a teenager who excelled at the Special Equestrian Olympics in 2011 and 2012.  
The Red Thread Promise became aware of her need last summer and later learned that she had lost a major source of support for her therapy. When one of our year-long scholarships became available, Candace was named the newest Jacob’s Fund ridership recipient. 

While Candace saddles up and begins her therapy in the outdoor arena, her mom, Dana, and I chat. Dana shares how Candace's confidence has soared due to her therapeutic riding. She is proud to have mastered so many skills on horseback. Candace has also become more outspoken about kids with different abilities, writing speeches and sharing about her own experience as a child with spina bifida.

Candace atop Hershey Kisses
Wilma has been telling me since we left Ohio “There’s a lot more to mission trips than hammer and nails.” Our conversations with Tony, Cameron, Landon, Melissa, Candace, and Dana have revealed the invisible silken red thread that connects us as a vivid, thrumming-with-life link.

Even in April in an unusually cool spring, the sun, at its zenith in Georgia this Friday, is too hot to work under, so we slow our pace and remain in the shade. Time to check the forecast again; the prospect of eighteen people inside the house with buckets of paint tomorrow is a bit daunting.

Hooray! The chance of rain is now at forty percent! Wilma, not given to bragging, and without even a hint of triumphant smile, simply says again, “It’s not going to rain.”

Finding a shady spot near the barn, Rhonda and I put a newly-sanded door on sawhorses and prime it. The sliding door will be installed at the entrance to the therapy rooms and will keep children receiving therapy from being distracted by activity in the offices and outer rooms.

Back to the pine straw, and in a matter of minutes we’re finished with the planting beds around the house and stand back to survey our handiwork and declare it beautiful. But with just one bale left over, Jessie’s off for another trailer load of pine straw.

All day long McKenna Farms has been alive with children, horses, volunteers, and therapists. The excitement is contagious and energizing. Now, dinner over, horses go back into the barn, the sun dips below the trees, and we slip into easy conversation with Jessie and Joyce, about the kids who come to McKenna Farms, redesigned plans for the parents’ viewing room at the indoor arena, and future mission trip projects.

Nearby, Jessie’s sons, Jackson and Aiden, play while Emma, Joyce’s daughter, who spends many hours each week volunteering at the farm, rides in the increasing dusk. 

Sitting down makes us aware of sore muscles and fatigue. Aiden, four, is ready for bed.  Amid mouth-watering promises of biscuits for breakfast from a local biscuit restaurant that’s sponsoring a fundraiser for McKenna Farms, Jessie and Joyce depart.

Within minutes, we’re showered and ready for bed. As the rest of the crew settles in to sleep, I grab a book and head for the porch, wondering if I can stay awake until the rest of the team shows up.

Though these rolling acres of trees and pasture have held deep meaning for me since the first time I brought Jacob here for hippotherapy. I’ve kept most of those feelings to myself, choosing instead to talk about the effectiveness of this therapy, the dedication of Jessie, her staff and the volunteers, who together keep the farm running and lovingly provide therapy to the disabled children whose lives are changed here.

Members of previous mission trips here have described this place as sacred. It is both healing and cherished, so I believe the description is apt. It certainly resonates deeply in me. 

Now, with the quiet broken only by an occasional whinny, I look out over the outdoor arena. My mind slips back to those times I watched Jacob ride Major as his therapist walked alongside. I smile, seeing him riding backward, wearing what seems like a very big helmet.  

As if unwilling to break the peace that blankets the farm, the first van carrying our fellow team members pulls into the parking area almost soundlessly, followed in a matter of minutes by the second van. I lead the eight youth and three adults to the boy’s and girl’s trailers where they’ll sleep, locate the bathrooms for them, and provide a peanut butter sandwich to one hungry young lady.

In a matter of minutes, the youth have inflated their air mattresses, spread out sleeping bags, and changed into sleeping pants and tee shirts. “Don’t worry about getting up too early,” I tell Brian, our youth pastor. “We’ll need to be well rested.”  

A final weather check shows the forecast for most of Saturday morning at just thirty percent chance of rain. ~ Glenna Fisher

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

JACOB'S FUND :: McKenna Farms Spring Mission Trip 2013 (part 2)

The key to a successful mission trip is preparation, starting as early as possible. That’s what the available literature advises, and it’s good counsel. Every year The Red Thread Promise launches a variety of mission trips, and planning starts early and in great detail. Jacob’s Fund folks and Christ United Methodist Church (CUMC) began planning three months in advance for the April 2013 mission trip to McKenna Farms, always in close contact with Jessie, the farm’s director.

Early on, we lined up a list of projects that needed to be done: staining new fencing around the playground area, pulling weeds, mulching, and sprucing up the Jacob Beachy Sensory Trail after winter had taken its toll.

CUMC’s Youth Group signed on to join us, their added energy and enthusiasm lending an air of renewed excitement to the trip.

Evening has begun to settle quietly over McKenna Farms. Therapists and kids are going through the last exercises, volunteers lead horses from pasture to barn, where they’ll feed them and settle them in for the night.  

Thursday Evening: Moonlight through the Pines

We’re the advance group. Most of the team won’t leave home until after school on Friday.

Jessie (farm director) and Joyce (lead therapist), greet us warmly as, laden with air mattresses and sleeping bags, we make our way to a large therapy room that will serve as home for the next three nights.
CUMC youth, Joyce and Jessie prepping the fire
We’ve been following the weather closely, as has Jessie. All of our planned projects are outdoors, and rain looks imminent for Saturday. With the bulk of our team arriving late Friday night, it seems our flexibility is about to be tested. We won’t be able to finish the fence staining tomorrow, and with Saturday looking wet, we scratch that task off our list.

No problem. When your focus is on serving the two hundred or more children who visit the farm each week, there are always more than enough projects to keep a crew in steady work. While all of the rooms in the trailers were freshly painted, three rooms in the one-hundred-fifty-year-old farmhouse could use a coat of paint.

Minutes after finishing dinner, as a full moon rises over the towering pines bordering the Jacob Beachy Sensory Trail, we’re ready for bed. With bad weather on the horizon, we need to get as much outside work done as we can tomorrow.

Before drifting off to sleep, Wilma, our mission trip expert makes a prediction: it will not rain on Saturday. 
~ Glenna Fisher
Praying for good weather!

Monday, April 21, 2014

JACOB'S FUND :: McKenna Farms Spring Mission Trip 2013 (part 1)

We’re leaving for McKenna Farms in Dallas, Georgia, in a few days.

Right now, our mission team from Christ United Methodist Church (Middletown, Ohio) is meeting to go over the details of the trip and introduce mission trips to those who are making foray into the mission field. We quickly run through the basics: where we’re going, what we plan to do while we were there, eating and sleeping arrangements.  

Then questions start popping up like critters in Whac-A-Mole. I soon realize that much of what a mission trip is about can’t be described or predicted. Each trip is different, and team members will bring home a kaleidoscope of new experiences.

Mission trips aren’t for everyone. Hard work, sweat, getting dirty, and less-than-perfect sleeping accommodations are key elements of most trips. Flexibility is absolutely essential. In everything. Add in eight middle schoolers, some of whom have never been as far from home as this weekend will take them and you never know what may happen.

As I look around the crowded conference table, at new young faces and wise, experienced ones, I think, “They’ll be perfect.”

~ Glenna Fisher, Jacob's Fund Director

JACOB'S FUND :: What's so special about a mission trip?

Mission trips. Churches, youth groups, and civic organizations host them as well as non-profits like The Red Thread. Teams work locally, nationally and internationally in soup kitchens, on farms, in hospitals and schools. They get dirty, clean things up, package food, build houses and provide any number of services. 

But why? 
Why go to all of the hassle? 
Why not just write a check? 
That's good enough.

While raising money for surgeries and medical care is critical to accomplish our mission—providing hope and healing to needy and orphaned children—we feel that relationship building is equally important. It is a component of our programming that is so intertwined with our work serving needy children with disabilities that we can not imagine our organization without it.

Two TRTP volunteers from McKenna Farms mission trip, Spring 2013
On mission trips, ties are strengthened between donors, Red Thread leaders, volunteers, and the families being directly affected by our work. Donors provide the funds for all things necessary to complete the task at hand. Volunteers supply the manpower to do the hands-on work. TRTP team leaders guide the volunteers during the work and facilitate opportunities to meet the children and families being helped. 

Mission trips foster personal connections between: volunteers and children with disabilities; volunteers with TRTP leaders; TRTP leaders with the families being served. These are things that can't be adequately experienced from afar. They require one-on-one contact. 

Through these personal experiences, we see what it's like to live in someone else's shoes for a moment. We see what it is like to have a disability. We then have the opportunity to do something beneficial, to become a direct blessing to a child. Through this process, we grow as human beings. 

And then we share. We share our stories when we come back home. We talk about the people we met and worked with and how they affected our lives. Through mission trips we realize that not only can we GIVE to these children, but we RECEIVE great blessings in return.

That, dear friends, is why we provide these opportunities for TRTP supporters. 

This week, we'll embark on another trip to McKenna Farms. For 3 days, we'll be there, helping out in whatever capacity they need, meeting some of the kids we support, and fellowshipping together. 

In honor of the upcoming journey to Georgia, we invite you to join us for a trip down memory lane through a series of posts about our spring trip from 2013. See the trip through the eyes of Jacob's Fund Director, Glenna, the author of the following posts and our fearless leader for each mission trip in the USA.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

HAITI :: Help put an end to hunger pains

Deaf students sharing their one substantial meal per day, THANKS TO YOU
(all photos courtesy of West Tennessee Haiti Partnership)
Our hearts break a little more with each new conversation with Father Sadoni only to hear that the food crisis for the children at St. Vincent’s is not improving as we had hoped. While a partnership of teams researches both aquaponic and aeroponic garden solutions for St. Vincent’s long-term sustainability and to minimize future food shortages, there is still a real need to fill the children’s bellies now

This, friends, is where your support continues to be critical. 

St. Vincent's serves as a dormitory, school and community for the deaf and blind as well as those missing limbs and children who have impaired cognitive abilities. Due to unforeseen circumstances, St. Vincent's lost it’s main food donor in 2013. Ever since, Fr. Sadoni has been working fervently to establish a new food source for the children so they can grow and thrive while in his care.

Currently, the residential students and the live-in caregivers receive two meals per day. The breakfast is light, usually bread and butter. Lunch consists of a single plate of beans and rice. All meal service for non-residential students (close to 200 children) has been put on hold with no reinstatement date in sight.

In an attempt to ward off hunger pains at bedtime, older residents—mainly teens and young adults—set aside a portion of their lunch to eat in the evening. The younger kids often don’t fare as well. No doubt it is difficult for the smallest ones to set aside part of their meal when their stomachs are still growling.

To add to their plight, the filter on the St. Vincent’s water purification system needed to be changed and the system shut down, temporarily cutting off their water supply. Thankfully, this should be rectified quickly, hopefully by the end of this week.

The situation is bleak now, but there is always hope! Our friends from West Tennessee Haiti Partnership were at St. Vincent’s last week to provide well-child checkups and reported that the kids are still relatively healthy. They were kind enough to snap a few pics of the kids at lunch time (pictured here). The children's spirits were high and, as usual, they thoroughly enjoyed having the US team in their midst for the week. They are doing remarkably well under the circumstances. 

With your WONDERFUL HELP, we met and exceeded our $12,000 food goal in March 2014. For this we extend our gratitude as do the children! However, in lieu of the circumstances, our team has decided to continue the food drive until the situation changes for the better. 

With your gifts, we will continue to feed the kids in the short-term, ending their hunger pains NOW, while long-term solutions are set in motion. THANK YOU for both your gifts and sharing this need with others who may be in a position to help. 

Every gift counts.