CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Hi, everyone! My name is Blake, Denise’s godson. I have known the Hammonds quite literally since I was born, and over the years our families have grown to have a very strong relationship with one another.

Recently I had the wonderful privilege of helping out for a very special day of the Hammonds’ Farm Camp. Throughout the summer, Denise has been holding several three-day children’s Farm Camps at her lovely barn. During the Camp, kids get a feel for life on a farm through various fun activities and presentations. There are usually about a dozen attendees. However, on the day I was present, Denise kindly welcomed onto her farm forty-two campers from A Child’s Place, a wonderful organization whose goal is to strengthen and enrich the lives of homeless children. It was a super-mega-awesome day of Farm Camp with three days’ worth of activities condensed into one fun-tastic day.

Even though the forty-two children were accompanied by counselors from A Child’s Place, there was still a large need for volunteers to help manage the stations that the campers rotated to and to keep track of the many happenings going on. There were several minors that were more than happy to volunteer: Hunter, Colton, Mary Charlotte, Miles, Allie, Rachel, Gabby, Allison, Hayden, and Dylan. They were all excellent! I was the resident “reporter” for the day (or “tourist,” as I was dubbed by my brother), snapping photos of the campers’ activities and taking mental notes so that I could bring you this report.

The day began early as the campers arrived. They parked out front, so the sight of them all walking up the long driveway was quite a spectacle. Their smiling faces and infectious happiness set the mood wonderfully for the rest of the day; you could just feel it in the air that it was going to be a great experience, for both them and us.

After introductions were made and the general rules for the day were gone over, the campers got right down to business. There was no wasting time around here! Everyone got right to work, helping give the farm animals their breakfast of hay and grain. Several children were a bit afraid of the animals, but I think the fact that the first thing we did was feed and interact with the animals helped break down the scare factor barrier. They were able to see that (for the most part) the animals won’t bother you unless you bother them.

Next it was time to break up into six different groups so that each group could begin to rotate to different stations around the farm. First up was a presentation by the farrier, whose job title is one that I hadn’t heard of before. A farrier is a horse expert who, for the Hammonds at least, is in charge of changing the horses’ horseshoes.

I didn’t realize it was such a long process to change out each horse’s shoe. However, the amount of time is necessary because each shoe has to be specially fitted to each horse’s specific foot shape. The horseshoe can’t be simply slipped on, it has to be tried on, then molded (in a 2,500 degree “oven”!), then tried on again, and then possibly molded some more if needed. Even though you might think that the horse would begin screaming and running around at the moment that its foot meets a literally burning-hot shoe, the horse didn’t even flinch!

I also didn’t know that horses go through their shoes so quickly . . . they get a new pair about every five weeks!

The farrier also clipped the horse’s hooves (with a gadget sort of like a giant toenail clipper). The children enjoyed giving the clipped-off parts of the hooves to the Hammonds’ dog Buddy as a treat; he loved them. Yuck!

After the farrier it was time to visit the veterinarian. The vet explained what goes into a general check-up appointment for a horse. He then let campers use his stethoscope to listen to one of the horse’s heartbeat!

Next up we headed next door to see the Hammonds’ neighbor, Mary. She too has a farm, again with its fair share of critters. In the barn, after a brief break for popsicles, we visited Mary’s horses and got to feed them some apple treats. We got a peek at a parrot, who takes a liking to screaming loudly and chewing up telephone books. Outside, we got to look at a llama (no, I’m not kidding!), as well as several rabbits, guinea pigs, cats, and geese. I had never seen geese like the ones here; I’m used to seeing the ones at the park with smooth gray feathers. These geese, though, had white feathers that were sticking out every which way. Interesting!

Our next station was decorating our very own horseshoe! Mary Charlotte, Hunter, Hayden, and Dylan were on hand to demonstrate to us the proper way to clean and brush a horseshoe. Then each camper selected a color to spray paint their horseshoe with!

Then it was time to go to the front lawn for horseback riding. Allie, Gabby, Allison, and Rachel were the handlers for this activity and assisted campers with ascending and descending the horses and additionally escorted each horse as the campers rode. Again, some children were a bit hesitant around the horses, but all of them conquered their fear and had a great time riding the horses. Some even hopped on for a second turn!

The final station was animals 101 with Colton and Miles. Everyone was able to pet the goats and even stop by to visit the baby pig. We also got to see a donkey. Miles pointed out to us the naturally-formed cross shape that the donkey has on its back that is a different color of fur than the rest of its body. This means that the donkey is a Jerusalem donkey, the very same kind that Jesus rode into Nazareth on. Pretty neat!

Then it was lunchtime! Hooray!

After lunch, it was time to take a hike! (A literal hike; we didn’t have to leave just yet.) We explored the woods (which included a daring jump across the oh-so-scary creek) behind the farm and concluded our journey with an insane water fight!

I stayed out of the water fight action so as to keep the camera safe, but I was just about the only one that shied away from the water. The campers were not afraid to get wet in the least bit! Everyone was soaked by the time the water fight was over.

Sadly, our day of Farm Camp was just about over, but not before one last surprise. Three horses and one pony were escorted into the driveway. What was going on here? Denise explained to everyone that we are all precious to God and that includes are handprints, which He formed to each be uniquely different from any other. (Psalm 139:14-16 (NIV) states “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”)

On that note, everyone got a small splatter of paint placed onto their hands, rubbed their hands together, and placed their handprints in paint on the horses. It was quite something to see the collage of prints once everyone was finished, each tiny hand representing not only a fun day at Farm Camp, but an adored child of the Lord.

Lastly, each camper was given a delicious cupcake before they headed out. I honestly didn’t know what to expect out of the day, but the entire experience was a very gratifying opportunity. Not only was it enjoyable to see the behind-the-scenes workings of a farm, but for this special version of Farm Camp it was extremely fulfilling to know that I was helping make a difference, if only for a day, in the lives of these children, some of which might not even know where they were going to sleep that night. To see the joy and wonderment on their faces as they rode horses, fed donkeys, and proudly displayed their horseshoes for all to see was a humbling experience that I will cherish for a long time.

Denise & Blake Hammond, blogspot.com

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