EAST COUNTY — Susannah Cripe has gone from old to new.
Cripe, who worked at Easter Seals, an organization that assists individuals with disabilities and their families, for more than 16 years, started Nov. 4 as the new executive director for Foundation for Dreams.
Foundation for Dreams is a nonprofit dedicated to providing a safe camp experience for children with special needs or chronic/terminal illnesses.
“It was a natural fit,” said Cripe, who has served on the board of directors for Foundation for Dreams for 12 years. “(Former director) Jodi (Frankie) did a great job. There’s a great staff here, great caregivers. It was a nice step into this role.”
When Frankie announced to the board she was moving to Mississippi to be closer to family, Cripe quickly realized the role was one she would love to assume. Since her first time camping there more than a decade ago, the camp and its mission had grown even closer to her heart. Plus, she relishes any opportunity to be outdoors.
“I would probably move here if I could,” she says under her breath, before letting out a light chuckle.
Plus, she was ready for a new challenge.
“I feel like I hit my max on the program (I oversee at Easter Seals),” said Cripe, who has spent the last 13 years as project director for Easter Seal’s Project Rainbow Children’s Respite program, which provides free home- and community-based respite care for caregivers of individuals with disabilities. “That’s why this was such a good fit. At Easter Seals, I did in-home respite care. I can still have those kids come out here.
“I felt I could come here (and make a difference). I want to have the whole country be able to come,” she said. “I have big goals.”
Those goals are ones the Foundation for Dreams board has discussed for years, but also ones Cripe has taken to heart, she said.
First, she wants to host children from all over the nation and world, as well as from the Sarasota/Bradenton area, at the camp, so they can experience camp in a safe environment while their caretakers receive a break from the day-to-day stresses of caring for a child with special needs. She hopes to expand the program so camps are offered every weekend, rather than just during the summer time, and to offer camp programs for special-needs adults. Currently, Foundation for Dreams’ summer camp program, Dream Oaks Camp, only serves children ages 7 to 17.
Second, she wants to build a multipurpose building for the foundation.
The organization leases 12 acres on the eastern-most portion of Camp Flying Eagle; although it has its own office and cabins, it shares main facilities, including a swimming pool and dining hall, with the Boy Scout camp. But, those facilities are not always ideal for special-needs children, she said. The new building would be air conditioned, have its own kitchen and have a stage, sensory rooms and other features. Cripe hasn’t priced the concept, but expects the structure, programming and staffing would cost anywhere between $2 million and $4 million.
Cripe has spent the last month unofficially working in her new role, taking nights and weekends to tend to her new duties. It’s been exhausting, but Cripe is eager to see her vision for Foundation for Dreams fulfilled.
“It’s been a long month, but I’m ready,” she said.
For more information on Foundation for Dreams, visit foundationfordreams.org.
Love at first site
Susannah Cripe, Foundation for Dreams’ new executive director, joined the organization’s board of directors 12 years ago to better familiarize herself with the organization and its mission.
“I didn’t want to refer families to a program I wasn’t comfortable with,” said Cripe, who worked for Easter Seals, another non-profit that helps families of children and adults with disabilities.
Cripe camped on site with the children right away,
“That’s when I fell in love,” she said. “I never got to camp as a kid. I was so excited. That was a huge draw.”
Lend a hand
Foundation for Dreams’ new executive director Susannah Cripe said the organization can use help with “sprucing up” its campus. Anyone interested in lending a hand should contact Cripe at 746-5659.
Foundations for Dreams is located at Camp Flying Eagle, at 16110 Dream Oaks Place, Bradenton.
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].