Wednesday, February 1st, 2023
Wednesday, February 1st, 2023

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The Lodge @ Dreaming Tree Ranch supports young cancer patients

Scot Becker (front, center), who is legally blind following leukemia treatments, was able to use adaptive equipment to harvest this 10-point buck at the Lodge @ Dreaming Tree Ranch (above) in Potsdam. Next to Scot are Karen and Jim Curtis, while in the back (l-r) are Jeff Becker, Kristy Becker, Jesse Becker and Noah Becker. (Photos provided)

Potsdam, N.Y. — The Lodge @ Dreaming Tree Ranch is a place of peace and comfort for families facing a pediatric cancer diagnosis. Inspired by Samantha “Sami” Curtis, the Lodge is the flagship project of the Help Sami Kick Cancer Foundation, based in Canton in St. Lawrence County.

Before she passed away from a glioblastoma at age 18, Sami Curtis had already made a significant impact by raising more than $100,000 toward breast cancer research. Building and operating The Lodge @ Dreaming Tree Ranch is how her parents, Jim and Karen Curtis, choose to honor Sami’s legacy.

Long before her own diagnosis at age 13, Sami Curtis participated on the board of directors for the Northern New York Community Foundation. Before she died, the NNYCF reached out to the Curtis family to coordinate creating a legacy fund to honor Sami. She was able to be present and contribute ideas while deciding how these funds would be distributed.

Both in life and in death, she was always an inspiration, according to her dad, Jim Curtis.

“Sami’s faith was tremendous,” Jim Curtis said. “She did not fear dying. She had a strong faith and knew she was going to meet God and get to fish with Jesus. We are not a tremendously religious family but we are quietly faithful. Sami’s faith was bigger than anything we could have anticipated.”

Sami wanted her legacy funds to be used to directly help other kids with cancer. She was very outdoorsy and connecting pediatric cancer patients with fun outdoor experiences felt like the right combination to the Curtis family. They just did not have the road map yet.

Sami loved fishing, hunting, horseback riding, and lots of other outdoor activities. Before she died, she wanted to go on an elk hunt in Colorado. So, the Curtis family and a few extended family members traveled to Colorado to fulfill Sami’s wish.

A separate, different program in Pennsylvania called the One Wish Foundation provides kids facing life-altering medical or social conditions experiences in the great outdoors, including hunting, fishing, camping, four-wheeling, rafting, and more.

After Sami’s death, the Curtis family was contacted by the One Wish Foundation to host a teen from Pennsylvania named Mason Smith for turkey hunting on their property. The Curtis family own a large farm with lots of acreage, perfect for turkey hunting. The kicker was that the folks from the One Wish Foundation had no prior knowledge of the Curtis family’s connection to cancer. Coincidentally, the day they came to hunt on the Curtis family farm was the one-year anniversary of Sami’s death.

Jarrod Renninger, the president and founder of the One Wish Foundation, shared that his “one wish” as leader of the organization was to someday establish a place with plenty of land where families could relax in nature and bond with each other, away from the stressors of their everyday lives.

Inspired by the experience with the One Wish Foundation and Renninger’s vision, Jim and Karen Curtis brought the idea to the Help Sami Kick Cancer Foundation board. They shared the story of the youth turkey hunter and the connections formed.

“Everyone on our board was in tears,” Jim Curtis said. “They were all on board with the idea.”

The very next day a property that had been in foreclosure that happened to be in an ideal location went on the market. They purchased it in January of 2019 and immediately went to work renovating it into The Lodge @ Dreaming Tree Ranch.

“We were able to buy a 4,500-square-foot home and transform it into The Lodge,” Jim Curtis said.

The property was made completely handicap accessible and upgraded top to bottom, Curtis said.

Located at 185 Wilkinson Road, Potsdam, The Lodge @ Dreaming Tree Ranch has become a place where families can spend time together enjoying nature. So far, the most popular activity has been hunting, although the Help Sami Kick Cancer Foundation Board had ensured that there is an abundance of nature-based activities for families to enjoy, including walking trails, skiing, snowshoeing, horseback riding, and sideby-side ATV riding, campfires, swimming, fishing, and a sugar house for making maple syrup.

Each family that stays at The Lodge has their own special story, Curtis said, but one recent youth that stayed at The Lodge was particularly inspiring.

Scot Becker is legally blind due to his treatment for leukemia, but he
wanted to hunt deer. His father had purchased an adapter for his scope
that connects to a smartphone. Prior to coming to The Lodge, working
with his father, Becker would practice target shooting. The Becker
family came to Potsdam to hunt deer at Dreaming Tree Ranch.

“They had no expectations of actually getting anything,” Jim Curtis said. “But he ended up shooting a beautiful 10-point buck.”

A video documenting Scot Becker’s hunt can be found on YouTube under Mountain Hollow Game Calls.

The work of the Help Sami Kick Cancer Foundation and The Lodge at Dreaming
Tree Ranch is supported by a number of community members who volunteer
their time, efforts, and services, including Ken Hammel and his team at
Mountain Hollow Game Calls, who guided Becker on his whitetail hunt, Joe
Briggs of Little Joe’s Meat Cutting, Brian Livernois of Backwoods
Taxidermy, and so many more, according to Curtis.

“Our community is so supportive of what we are doing,” Jim Curtis said.
“Brian of Backwoods Taxidermy has mounted every kill for the families
that wanted them, and he has never charged us anything. Joe Briggs has
cut the meat for the families and bumped them up ahead of other deer he
has had in his freezer so that our families can take their meat home
with them.”

Many community members, including HSKCF board members and pro staff from
Mountain Hollow Game Calls, come over to visit with the families during
their stay at The Lodge.

“It might seem like we are doing the work but there is an entire community behind us,” Jim Curtis said.

Each stay at The Lodge is tailored to the specific family, including meal plans and activities.

“We don’t want them to want for anything while they are here,” Karen Curtis
said. “We truly want to take them away from cancer and the daily
routine of that.”

The focus of The Lodge @ Dreaming Tree Ranch will always be on the family, according to both Jim and Karen Curtis.

“We want the family to be together as a unit and enjoy each other’s company
and make memories,” Jim Curtis said. “We were able to do that in
Colorado with Sami. While the hunting and the scenery were spectacular,
the real memories were made in the cabin, laughing, talking, and
spending time together.”

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