BERLIN — Several physical miles and a million symbolic miles away from sterile medical offices, needles and debilitating treatments is an idyllic horse farm in Berlin where dozens of kids battling life-threatening diseases have found a brief but joyful respite all summer, thanks to Believe in Tomorrow and two local girls who shared their love of horses and horseback riding.
The Believe in Tomorrow Children’s Foundation offers children fighting disease and illness and their families a retreat in Ocean City from the daily grind of treatments and hospital visits and allows them to enjoy a summer vacation similar to that enjoyed by most families at the beach. Each week all summer, six families arrive at the Believe in Tomorrow House by the Sea on 66th Street for a week of fun in the sun and activities arranged by the Director Wayne Littleton and his staff including surfing, fishing, Coast Guard tours, mini golf and amusement park visits, for example.
About two years ago, Jan Rooney, a trainer and program director at Berlin’s Autumn Grove Stables, owned and operated by Kristie and Katie Naughton, suggested to Littleton an activity be added for the kids and their families at the farm. Out of that conceptual idea grew a program at Autumn Grove in which ill children and their siblings get a chance each week to ride and interact with the horses at the farm.
Georgia Parolski and Paige Kreppel, who ride competitively at Autumn Grove, each week throughout the summer invited kids from Believe in Tomorrow to the farm in Berlin to ride the horses and enjoy the hobby and sport they love so much themselves. On Wednesday, Parolski and Kreppel hosted two families from the Children’s House by the Sea to ride, feed and water down the horses.
The sheer joy on the faces of the children enjoying something they wouldn’t typically get to do far away from doctors and hospitals was matched by their moms who stood by and watched.
“It’s amazing,” said Tracee Antoine, mother of Max and Naisyn Antoine, who rode at Autumn Grove on Wednesday. “Coming off a brutal treatment, it’s so hard to find things to do with the kids to get their mind off it and let them just be kids, but Believe in Tomorrow makes it happen.”
Antoine said allowing the children to ride and interact with the horses at Autumn Grove, and the other activities arranged by Littleton and the Believe in Tomorrow crew is an indispensable part of the healing process.
“This is the kind of stuff that helps them forget about the year they just had,” she said. “Coming to the beach and enjoying these activities, like coming out to this beautiful farm and riding the horses, is helping to bring us back to life.”
Rooney said the activities at Autumn Grove on Wednesday and all summer long helped provide a release for the kids from the daily grind.
“They forget all about it for that hour and half or so that they’re out here,” she said. “For that hour and half, nobody out here is sick.”
For his part, Littleton praised Parolski and Kreppel for their dedication to the program and presented them Wednesday with plaques of recognition.
“These girls are just terrific,” he said. “For teenagers to give up a couple hours a week out of their summer to help these kids enjoy a little break from what they’re going through is special. It’s something they clearly love to do and they’re bringing that joy to all these kids all summer.”
Littleton said despite their illnesses, the participants find joy and relief in the activities Believe in Tomorrow provides for them.
“They’re just kids,” he said. “They want to do the same things all kids want to do. A lot of these activities are things they don’t get to experience.”