Every kid deserves the opportunity to go to camp – especially children battling cancer.
Coleson’s F.R.O.G., a local nonprofit organization, now is making that a reality for many local families with the recent purchase of 22-acres in far north Fort Worth.
The group has hosted camps for the last four years, but has had to rent space near Glen Rose, said Julie Young, Coleson’s F.R.O.G. founder.
“The Lord told me we needed to have our own camp,” she said.
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The stars had to align perfectly to make purchase of the camp, at 1824 Staree Lane possible. It started with their home near The Villages of Woodland Springs subdivision, Young said.
“We knew when we bought our home that the city would eventually need to buy some of the land to extend Timberland Boulevard to U.S. Hwy 377,” she said.
At the time, they didn’t know when the city would take action, but it happened last April within weeks of the new camp property being put up for sale.
“We took that money to invest in this property,” she said. “It was exactly what we were looking for. Had any of the components changed, it would not have happened.”
The main house, known as The Frog Lodge, has two family suites that sleep six and one family suite that sleeps four. It also has a swimming pool and a garage being converted into a game room.
There will be a second house that eventually will have a suite for family of six, a chapel and media room, she said.
“We are going to call it the anchor house and it will have a beach theme,” Young said. “That is our next project.”
There also are plans to eventually have 10 premanufactured cabins on the property, she said.
“We have our first cabin being built and it should be completed by the end of February,” Young said.
Funds for the cabin were donated, she said.
For the Young family, pediatric cancer hits close to home.
In 2009, the Young’s son, Coleson, was diagnosed with a brain tumor when he was 2 years old.
He underwent surgery to remove the tumor, followed by seven weeks of chemotherapy at M.D. Anderson in Houston.
In 2010, Young and her husband, Regi, decided to start Coleson's F.R.O.G. as a ministry to help families coping with childhood cancer. In 2013, the group received its 501c3, or nonprofit status.
F.R.O.G. stands for fully relying on God, Young said.
Today, Coleson, 9, is a happy-go-lucky third-grader at Independence Elementary School and has been in remission for six years.
The group, which started out by serving meals at The Ronald McDonald House and handing out goody bags at Cooks Children’s Hospitals, also hosts 5K races to raise funds to also do camps for families.
The next race is April 29, and they anticipate raising about $25,000 like they did last year, Young said.
“The Ronald McDonald House is where we stayed at in Houston, and I will always want it to be a part of Coleson’s F.R.O.G.,” she said.
The group also donates $500 per month to Cook Children’s Hospital to help a family with expenses, Young said.
“We consider anyone we have helped to be a F.R.O.G. Family,” Young said.
The nonprofit is helping at least 20 families monthly, Young said.
But, hosting camps is where they can really connect with families, she said.
“Our focus is to show the love of Christ when they’re going through a trial,” Young said.
Fort Worth resident Amanda Aswell, whose 8-year-old son, Bryce, was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor in 2015, found Coleson’s F.R.O.G. to be a blessing for the entire family.
“Being around kids going through the same thing has made a huge difference for Bryce and the rest of the family,” Aswell said. “It’s amazing being reminded that God is still there through the storm – we get weak – and Coleson’s F.R.O.G. is there to lift us back up,” she said.
Young and Aswell met prior to Bryce’s diagnosis because Coleson and Aswell’s nephew, whom she is raising, were friends in school.
“Julie invited him over to play and Bryce was with us and he wanted to stay,” Aswell said.
She was hesitant because Bryce could be clumsy, Aswell said.
As Young listened to Aswell describe Bryce’s behavior, red flags began to go off.
“You don’t tell someone ‘hey I think your kid has a brain tumor,’” Young said. “It’s weird to say amazing and brain tumor in the same sentence, but I think it is amazing that the Lord brought us together before the diagnosis.”
The Aswells attended their first family camp last year.
“I left there feeling filled up and feeling stronger and more encouraged,” she said. “There are many times you feel alone. Having parents there that have walked that journey is powerful.”
Michael McCleeny, 15, a sophomore at Boswell High School, has experienced both sides of Coleson’s F.R.O.G. - as a volunteer and as a “F.R.O.G. kid.”
“I had non-Hodgkin’s Burkitt’s lymphoma,” he said.
Now, with more than two years of remission under his belt, he gives back by volunteering at the organization that helped him when he was younger.
“It feels good to help everyone else our when I get the chance to volunteer,” he said.
The camp, which is free to the families, also has a pond and a remote-control car race track, which were great tools at the teen camp held in August, Young said.
“They’re doing something, but we are still able to engage in conversation,” she said.
They plan on hosting the first family camp at The Frog Lodge this summer, Young said.
“Our goal is to keep the camps small so you can still engage with the families,” she said. “Our whole point is to build relationships with the families and you can’t do that if there are too many.”
Being local is crucial for the families with sick children, Young said.
“If something happens where they get a fever or a cut – where that’s fine for a child who isn’t sick – that could cause them to be rushed to the hospital,” Young said. “We are close and 20 minutes away from Cooks Children’s Hospital. Even my son – being six years in remission – if something happens to him, I’m taking him to Cooks.”
Both Young and Aswell agree that more needs to bring awareness to pediatric cancer.
“Our children are using adult chemotherapy,” Aswell said. “Some of these cancers aren’t found in adults. We need more research.”
Aswell also suggests doing research before donating money to an organization.
“Just because they use a child’s face in the campaign doesn’t mean it is going to pediatric cancer research,” she said.
Don’t wait for tragedy to get involved, Young said.
“We can all go through life thinking it won’t happen to us,” Young said. “Don’t wait for it to happen to your child or someone that you loves child to help bring awareness. Coleson’s F.R.O.G. is one of many ways to help by volunteering time or donating money. Now we have a place right here in Fort Worth where they can come volunteer.”
For more information, visit www.colesonsfrog.com.