Camp Cole Mental Wellness Through Equestrian Summer Camp

by Contributor

‘Mary’ has attended Camp Cole for the past two years. She is nonverbal and has epilepsy with severe seizures. Due to her condition and medications, she sleeps often and is limited in what activities she can participate. One day, Mary decided to join her group, but they already left for an activity. Instead, she went to the horse barn which was surprising because Mary had not been around horses before. While petting the horse, she suffered a seizure. As Mary fell to the ground at the feet of an animal 15 times her size, everyone rushed to her.

But not the horse. 

He recognized the situation was fragile and slowly backed away to give her space. Once staff assessed the situation, Mary got right back up and reached out for the horse, who responded to the unspoken connection and came back for more nuzzles. 

Welcome to Camp Cole. 

Two best friends, Kelsey Sawyer Carter and Margaret Deans Fawcett Grantz, founded Camp Cole. They named the camp after Carter’s brother, Cole, who lost his battle with cancer in 2004. Inspired by a camp experience Cole had before his death, they vowed to create a safe and accessible camp and retreat center for children with an illness, disability or life challenge.  

In 2018 they found the site, created a business plan, sought support from local companies – including Colonial Life -- and opened their doors in 2021.

Thanks in part to funding from Colonial Life, Camp Cole has served more than 1,000 children and introduced the free Camp Cole Horsemanship Experience. The goal of this program is to increase a camper's mental health, confidence, self-esteem and communication through the relationship with a horse, like it did for Mary. In addition, Colonial Life volunteers come on-site and support the campers through activities such as painting, sorting supplies and assisting with groundskeeping.   

“We have crafted the camp to be like any other camp experience,” says Grantz, co-founder and director of development and marketing. “It’s an overnight experience and we schedule to the needs and wants of the campers. If they want yoga, we help them find a yoga instructor. If they want gymnastics, we'll help them find a gymnastics instructor. They tell us their dream and we help to fill it.”

Camp Cole goes beyond mental wellness for children and their parents. It’s a place where campers meet new friends and caregivers can trust that their loved ones will be taken care of while they stay overnight for a week or more. 

Grantz said, “We have parents say they are able to reconnect with their spouse or just take some personal time to go out and be with friends. There is no limit to who we serve, so if we can meet the needs of the parent and child, it helps us create more opportunities to connect people.”  

The Camp Cole and Colonial Life partnership will continue to unite children like Mary to outdoor experiences in the future.

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About Unum Group

Unum Group (NYSE: UNM), an international provider of workplace benefits and services, has been helping workers and their families for 175 years. Through its Unum and Colonial Life brands, the company offers disability, life, accident, critical illness, dental, vision and stop-loss insurance; leave and absence management support and behavioral health services. In 2022, Unum reported revenues of about $12 billion and paid $8 billion in benefits. The Fortune 500 company is one of the 2023 World’s Most Ethical Companies, recognized by Ethisphere®. 

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