POTSDAM — No sooner did the doors at The Lodge at Dreaming Tree Ranch open Saturday afternoon when the halls, rooms and surrounding grounds became filled with guests who wanted to see the renovated home that has become a place of respite for families dealing with pediatric cancer.
Tucked at the end of a long gravel driveway, lined with trees and fields at 185 Wilkinson Road, sat the lodge, surrounded by people, cars, food, music, a foal named Tex and a grateful couple.
Following the May 18, 2017 death of their 18-year-old daughter, Samantha “Sami” Curtis, after a two-year battle with cancer, James and Karen Curtis started the Help Sami Kick Cancer Foundation to help fund the renovation effort. Saturday’s open house, which ran from 4 to 8 p.m., finally gave the general public a full view of the ranch.
“We’ve had a lot of people asking, ‘What are you doing? What are the renovations? What is the place like?’” Mr. Curtis said, standing with his wife after taking a break from giving tours to visitors and hugging friends to came to support the family’s cause.
“We were doing tour after tour while the contractors were trying to work,” Mr. Curtis said.
“So we needed an open house,” Mrs. Curtis added. “Just to show the community our vision of what we’re doing. That was the purpose of today.”
They said while the 4,300-square-foot home, which is surrounded by 228 acres of woodland, may be vast, only one family at a time will be invited to use the space.
“The importance to us is the family bonding time,” Mr. Curtis said. “So when our daughter Sami was sick, we all went to Colorado, it wasn’t just the hunting, it was the time in the cabin, the laughter, in the cabin, the puzzle on the table and trying to watch my sister knit, and things like that were absolutely priceless.”
Almost a year to the day following her death, the Curtises were approached by the One Wish Foundation who asked if they would host 12-year-old Mason Smith, who had been diagnosed with leukemia. The boy wanted to shoot a trophy turkey that Mr. Curtis said he was unaware he had on his property.
“So we brought the boy up and we hosted the foundation and the family for a meal at our home and hunted on our property, and coincidentally, they came on May 17th and asked if the boy could hunt (the next day),” Mr. Curtis recounted. “I said that was more than OK, it was the one-year anniversary of our daughter’s death.”
Mason Smith’s picture is framed on the mantle of the fireplace that was built just this week and sits beside a photo of a birch tree that has carved into it, Sami ‘16.
“And so our true inspiration for what we’re doing here was started by our daughter, Samantha, and her strong work ethic, and the fact that we wanted to continue in her memory with a foundation,” Mr. Curtis said. “But the true inspiration for this project is from Mason Smith and the One Wish Foundation.”
That vision will be completed by fall when the first family will be hosted.
Once the lodge is open, families who stay there will have a chance to explore nature trails for walking, skiing, snowshoeing, horseback riding, side-by-side ATV riding, campfires, swimming, fishing, hunting and a sugarhouse for making maple syrup.
As visitors were given tours of the home, partook in the food and beverages provided and danced to staged performances by the Waydown Wailers, Nicole Moore, who traveled from Chazy with her two boys, Trevor Nephew, 15, and his 12-year-old brother, Evan Nephew, wandered from room to room, impressed by what they saw.
It was more impressive for the family, as they will be the first family to stay there once the work is complete.
In August 2018, Ms. Moore was shocked when Trevor was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. She said they have been traveling back and forth to the children’s hospital in Burlington, Vt., for chemotherapy, when a case worker connected her with the Help Sami Kick Cancer Foundation.
Now, with her son’s cancer in remission, Ms. Moore called Mrs. Curtis “a godsend.”
“She has been helping in so many ways with just having someone to talk to,” Ms. Moore said. “She has been through it and knows what I’m feeling and it’s great to just have that contact with her.”
Trevor was looking out the window at the vast property and the treeline in the distance, where he said he would spend most of his time, doing the things he loves like hiking, hunting, fishing and biking.
But it was knowing that he wasn’t alone in his fight against cancer and the kindness and generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Curtis that he said he found most inspiring.
“It was really hard at first but then knowing that I’m not alone definitely made me feel a lot better about opening up to things about what I’m going through,” he said. “And then having people that actually understand how it feels and all that, it just definitely made me feel better.
“This showed a part of me that I had no idea I had in me,” Trevor said, turning to his mother. “A strength that I didn’t think I would be able to handle, but was able to get through.”
Those interested in making a donation to the renovation project can do so through PayPal on the helpsamikickcancer.org website or by emailing foundation members at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 315-244-9292. Donations can also be mailed to 5905 County Route 27, Canton, N.Y. 13617.