By Matt Montgomery
The Pletcher family of Piedmont were instrumental in the formation of a camp for kids battling terminal illnesses.
The Angel Fire Heart Camp in Angel Fire, N.M. is a destination David and Mandy Pletcher and several of their family members take kids from the Cavett Kids Foundation to relax and enjoy some outdoor activities.
David, Mandy and their daughter Tobi Gordon volunteered at Mercy Hospital before the Heart Camp idea was conceived. His son, Shea Pletcher, worked as an intern for Cavett Kids while he was in college and came up with the basic idea for the Heart Camp.
The family decided if they were going to form a heart camp, they should use their place in the New Mexican mountains.
One of the thoughts behind having the camp in Angel Fire, is to give these kids who are all fighting terminal illnesses a place to go that they normally wouldn’t have the opportunity to go.
The foundation brings along medical personnel on the trip each year, to insure the kids’ safety.
Cavett Kids Foundation founder Danny Cavett said the foundation’s doctors do not want the kids to go much higher than 8,000 feet in elevation and not stay very long. The town of Angel Fire sits at 8,406 feet above sea level.
“That’s about as high as they are going to go without having any issues,” David Pletcher said. “The doctor’s at Children’s Medical Center approved the kids that are going up there.”
Each year, the number of campers vary. The maximum is 25. This year they took 14 kids to the camp.
Some of the activities the kids get to do while in Angel Fire include horseback riding, white water rafting, shopping in Red River, N.M., hanging out at the Heart Camp ranch, playing games, group activities and challenges Cavett does with the kids on a daily basis plus group sessions for the kids to share their experiences with the other kids to help one another.
“Having a place where these kids can be together is important,” Cavett said. “These kids are from all parts of the state. This is a place that they normally would not be allowed as a general rule. Those are unique things we do for them.”
Pletcher said one of the recurring themes the camp directors hear from the kids is that they feel normal for the first time in their life, being in these camps with other kids going through some of the same illnesses as them.
“They can be themselves and they are comfortable,” Pletcher said. “On their notes and Thank You cards they talk about how they feel like they are part of a group and they don’t feel different like they do in other groups of kids that don’t have issues.”
Cavett Kids Foundation implements what is known as “The Three C’s,” in all of their camps, including the Heart Camp.
The Three C’s stand for Character, Coping Skills and Connection.
“What’s unique about the program is we put them in a fun environment with fun things to do and challenge them,” Cavett said. “What I learned years ago at the hospital is these kids are living longer, but a lot of these kids were becoming brats. They didn’t fit into society. There wasn’t anything being done to teach them how to Cope, how to Connect and build Character. So, in my research, I found we could put all the stuff we need to teach in those Three C’s. They could remember those Three C’s real easy.”
Cavett, a former hospital chaplain at Children’s Hospital in Oklahoma City, founded the 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization, Cavett Kids Foundation, in 1997.
He actually started his first camp 36 years ago, which is one of the oldest kidney patient camps in the nation.
David Pletcher is professionally a geologist, who owns his own oil company. For his whole life, he and his family have always been involved in ministries or groups aimed toward helping others.
“They are very pertinent in this foundation,” Cavett said of the Pletchers, referring to Cavett Kids Foundation. “They love the kids as much as I do. They are willing to give all of their time. They volunteer for anything they can.”
Tobi Gordon said her favorite thing she does at the Heart Camp is the connection she has with the kids and also seeing the connections they form with each other. Gordon is a sign language interpreter at Piedmont Middle School.
Pletcher said working closely with the kids is what he enjoys.
“People ask me all the time, ‘How can you stand to go work with these kids with all of these health issues?’ We Periodically lose them. They have terminal or chronic illnesses,’” Pletcher said. “I tell people to just come and witness what we do and what happens is, no matter what you give, you get more out of it.”
Pletcher said it is hard working with kids he knows will eventually succumb to their illnesses and die, but seeing the kids experience so much more, had the Heart Camp not been there, is gratifying.
“Even if their time on Earth is limited, they got to interact with people and do the Three C’s,” he said. “You get to watch them and actually see a lot of them change just with one camp.”
Working with these kids so closely, has changed Pletcher’s life.
He said it forced him to put things into perspective.
Shea Pletcher, his wife Bailey, and their baby also live in Piedmont.
Cavett said the Cavett Kids Foundation recently lost one of their kids. Clifford was a cancer patient.
“When his mom emailed me to let me know that he died, she wanted me to know that his life consisted of living from one camp to another,” Cavett said. “That made me think, ‘We’re doing something.’”
Cavett said the kids in these camps, live to get the chance to go to the next one.