Health and healing in the wilderness
The long reaching effects of abused and neglected children is reflected in our society on many levels, and the need remains great for early intervention.
With this in mind, local businessman Chester Freeman sought to establish a camp in the Wallowa Mountains that would provide healing away from their hurtful environments for children affected by abuse in Central Oregon. Camp Eagle Cap was established in 2012, with the purchase of the 235 acres of property closing debt-free later this month, and eight years after the dream began.
"Two-hundred, thirty-five acres in the Wallowa Valley has been 'provided as a blessing' to Just Save 1 and Camp Eagle Cap," explained Freeman. "Just Save 1, meaning one child, is the 501c3 nonprofit that oversees the activities for Camp Eagle Cap for Central Oregon's abused and neglected children."
He went on to say that studies of veterans with PTSD have been done that are similar to Camp Eagle Cap. These studies show that veteran's PTSD levels have reduced by up to 60%, even six months following the outdoor experience.
"Children that have been through extreme and severe circumstances, especially when it is a result of their parent's choices: All my studies show that the impact of removing people and children from the environments close to where their pain was created, is not only healthy, yet healing. The results and what we have seen absolutely proves this," added Freeman.
Freeman, who also drives a bus for his nonprofit, shared one of his powerful camp stories.
"Last year two, 10-year-old girls rode in the bus right behind me as I was driving," shared Freeman. "They were specifically detailing how they were going to commit suicide. God said, 'Just get them to the mountains' like he does every year. By the last day, these two and all others shared their detailed stories of abuse, and we all 16 support staff and campers cried together. Then these two girls and others said, 'The only reason we are telling you this is because you all truly care about us. Now we just want to help other kids, people and horses."'
Once the Guest Ranch is constructed, Freeman said they will have a team together to oversee the property, oversee the livestock operation and also the lodge that can be leased out for other Central Oregon nonprofits helping abused and neglected children. Below the lodge with a fenced-off 1-acre part of property, a ranch house with caretaker will take care of the property and 234 acres, and the ongoing management of some cattle and Portuguese Mustangs used for mountain adventures. The ranch will also produce income from this to further help support the operation of Just Save 1 and Camp Eagle Cap.
"We will be involved with helping them set up rafting trips and horse adventures high in the mountains. Then they have the lodge as a base camp," he added. "The lodge will allow us to have more reunions for past children still in foster care or being raise by grandparents and other family members due to what their parents had done to them. We can float the Minam River and quickly return to the lodge or we can take them back high in the mountains on horses."
This is completely different than a Young Life camp. According to Freeman, smaller groups create a more family feel and focus on the children. The property involves lake, river rafting and mountain adventures, and is not a resort-like setting.
Sharing his past and his passion
Freeman shared that growing up he also experienced some neglect and saw some terrible things.
"For 30 years, I kept this inside and didn't even tell my father who divorced my mother when I was two," he explained. "Holding that inside caused me to be, in a sense 'lost' and unable to connect with people. I was very good at faking what I felt due to the things I went through with my mother during the times I visited her. I always had hope that time with her would change. Then in high school, I was an outdoor counselor. The impact I had on the less-included children truly stuck in my heart. That being said, I knew of God and through Bible studies I did on my own, I periodically would pray and especially in terrible times. God was always with me, yet I did not incorporate his love into everything I was doing."
"After a severe accident in 2007, and by all means, doctors say I should not still be alive, I came closer to God. I understand his guidance and love," Freeman went on to say. "After this, I shared what had happened to me in my youth and was able to release my feelings. I was blessed with a wife that is very close to God and Jesus. God also has guided and provided every step of the way. When I started Mann Mortgage over eight years ago, I started this company out of my car with no office, no support staff and no income."
In 2012, he made $40,000 gross before taxes, and his wife was staying home with their newborn baby girl, KaiKoa. He still decided to start Camp Eagle Cap with God guiding him and took 10 foster kids and other abused children to the first Camp Eagle Cap.
"This cost me personally $14,000 of the net $30,000 income I made that year," he noted. "So, we lived on $16,000 for the entire year."
The camp staff currently consists of Liz Olheiser, staff director with Freeman, camp cooks, medical professional group with nurses and paramedics, mentors and junior mentors 15-18 years of age (no more than three campers connected to two mentors), set up team for high in the mountains and rafting trips to coordinate and organize all supplies.
"Last year, with two back-to-back camps, we used 108 pack horses and mules to take supplies, campers and staff seven miles into the wilderness and a 4,000-foot climb to 7,500 feet in the Eagle Cap Mountains," said Freeman. "When we are not high in the mountains the other three days of Camp Eagle Cap, we have to rent out lodging for 26 people per week for staff and campers. So, for two back-to-back camps, this is a cost of $5,000 minimum for Camp Eagle Cap (cabin rentals) annually."
A fundraising event from November through December is underway to raise $100,000 to kick off this project. An anonymous donor is going to match $100,000 Dec. 31 if that much is raised. $200,000 gets them well on their way in the construction process for this $1,000,000 project.
Donations can be dropped off or mailed to any of the three Central Oregon Mann Mortgage offices:
Madras Mann Mortgage: 574 SW Fourth St., Madras, OR 97741, phone 541-615-9277
Prineville Mann Mortgage: 991 NE Third St., Prineville, OR 97754, phone 541-447-1140
Redmond Mann Mortgage: 755 SW Seventh St., Redmond, OR 97756, phone 541-647-2383
For more information, go to: www.campeaglecap.com
Chester Freeman can be reached at Mann Mortgage at 541-647-2383.
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