Riverwind Casino Charity Golf Classic

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Riverwind Casino Charity Golf Classic brings hope to ill children
Tournament raises money for Cavett Kids Foundation, Bridges

By Tim Farley

As a hospital chaplain, Danny Cavett has seen his share of youngsters die from chronic illnesses, but he’s also witnessed many others who survive and thrive thanks to a charity established 17 years ago in his name.

The Cavett Kids Foundation, known primarily for its six summer camps and 10 annual events, has fulfilled a lifelong dream for Cavett by creating a place where children battling life-threatening and chronic illnesses can enjoy life. But that’s not all. The youngsters are taught along the way how to cope with their diseases and develop the character needed for facing those challenges.

“I noticed we had a great opportunity to have some fun and teach these kids,” he said. “Everything we do at the camps and the other events has a teaching component to it. We don’t want them to just survive, but to thrive.”

Cavett’s message sounds good, but the camps require money and lots of fund raising. In late June, Cavett Kids Foundation was one of two non-profits that benefited from the annual Riverwind Casino Charity Golf Classic. The tournament, played at The Trails Golf Club in Norman, raised $27,800 for the foundation and $7,800 for Bridges, a transitional living program that provides shelter to homeless high school students in Norman.

Cavett isn’t shy about asking people for money that will be used to help his kids.
“Mostly, I hit people up individually. They understand I’m a chaplain so they know it’s a God thing,” he said. “We have no big benefactor. I’ve gone to the docs and I’ve gotten small grants.”

Cavett is director of pastoral care at OU Medical Center and The Children’s Hospital in Oklahoma City. He also teaches medical ethics at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

Jenny Rogers, a former Cavett Kids camper, is now executive director for the foundation. More than anyone else, she knows firsthand the importance of the summer camps.

“The biggest thing is the kids find a place where illness does not define you,” she said. “It gives them a place where they can feel normal.”

The largest camp, known as Camp Cavett, takes places at Lake Texoma as an estimated 200 youngsters from all walks of life and illnesses enjoy five days of fun in the sun, including the popular bass and striper fishing competition, which is led by the finest fishermen in Oklahoma and Texas. Cancer, heart disease, kidney disease, GI disorders, sickle cell and lung disease are among the most common sicknesses the children must deal with. The patients attend the camps at no charge.

Other camps are designed for patients with specific illnesses, such as heart and kidney disease. Ski Camp is held at Winter Park, Colo., and is for teenagers disabled by cancer while Camp Wildfire, a five-day retreat for children with Spina Bifida, is held at DryGulch, USA, in Pryor.

“It’s a transformational experience for everyone involved,” Rogers said, referring to the summer camps.

Looking back at her situation as a cancer patient at age 13, Rogers remembers the benefits of attending her first Cavett camp.

“It changed my whole perspective. My cancer was a blessing,” she said.

Now 30, Rogers has been in remission for the past 17 years.
While campers and counselors enjoy the experience, they know too well that some of those same youngsters may not be back the following year.

“Those (deaths) are tough,” Rogers said. “But we come together as a second family. We get it. Obviously, grief is involved but it’s also a celebration of that life and we get out the funny photos and videos and laugh.”

The last funeral Rogers attended was for a 10-year-old boy by the name of Clifford. His family framed a large photograph of the boy and requested camp officials take the photo to Camp Cavett as a memorial to the boy who loved his camping experience.

Bridges

Meanwhile, a program designed to help homeless high school students in Norman was the second beneficiary of the golf tournament hosted by Riverwind Casino.
“These kids are homeless through no fault of their own,” said Liz Hedrick, vice chairman of the nonprofit’s board of directors. “Their families may be in crisis for several reasons such as incarceration, death, addiction or maybe the parents are homeless themselves. When that happens, these kids find themselves living in a car or couch surfing. For a lot of them, they have no safe place to go and they’re so thankful for everything we do.”

Whatever the reason, Bridges provides Norman teens with affordable and safe housing, access to social services, mentors and counselors, academic assistance and incentive-based savings accounts and college scholarships.

Ninety percent of the students in Bridges graduate high school and pursue a college degree compared to 58.2 percent of other Oklahoma seniors.

The program offers a 20-unit apartment complex that includes a large student center with a computer lab and a large group kitchen. Participants must work 20 hours a week and contribute 30 percent of their income toward rent and utilities, maintain good grades and stay out of trouble, said Hedrick, a retired principal and former associate vice president of administration at Oklahoma City University. The program also provides financial support to 10 other students who live off-site.

“We have several students who went through the program and received full ride scholarships to college,” she said. “We’ve had one student who is now an intern at the White House. We’ve had another student who became a medical researcher and another who was the top freshman engineering student at OU last year.”

Sometimes, there’s the occasional surprise for those who operate the program. In one instance, a Bridges resident who found himself involved in the gothic culture showed an interest in art. He was mentored by an architect and now works as a professional architect himself.

Most Bridges students are 16 or older, but the program occasionally accepts 15-year-olds, Hedrick said. Typically, an estimated 10 Bridges students graduate from Norman Public Schools each year.

Riverwind responds

Kandi Link, assistant general manager at Riverwind Casino, said she is overwhelmed at the work performed by volunteers at both nonprofits.

“For starters both are local groups helping local people,” she said. “Obviously, Cavett’s Kids Foundation is on a larger scale helping kids from around the state and the world. To see what they provide the kids beyond the medical necessities is incredible.”

Clayton Stewart, senior marketing manager at Riverwind Casino, said the casino and the Chickasha Nation, which owns Riverwind, has worked to provide breakfast and dinner meals for the Bridges program the last four to five years.

“These are kids who almost fall through the cracks so it’s good to be able to help,” he said.

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