Children’s Harbor turns 30 this year and continues its mission of partnering with other organizations to help children with illnesses relax for free.
“It gives them a place where they can really be themselves and have someone to talk to about the difficult situations that they’re going through or have gone through, how did they cope,” director of marketing and communication Haley Hoppe said. “They share coping mechanisms and also they just need a vacation.”
Ben and Luanne Russell founded Children’s Harbor in 1989 at Lake Martin. The 66-acre property serves as a retreat facility which features zero-entry swimming pools, a handicap-accessible tree house, miniature golf, basketball and volleyball courts, canoeing, activity rooms and more all for free, according to Hoppe.
Children’s Harbor further expanded in 2001 with a family center at the Benjamin Russell Hospital for Children on the campus of Children’s of Alabama in Birmingham. The center is free to patients and their families and included licensed therapists, nap rooms, an exercise room and library.
Hoppe said Children’s Harbor has served hundreds of thousands of people in the three decades it’s run.
“(Going for 30 years) means that we’ve given a happy place to hundreds of thousands of children and their families,” Hoppe said.
At Children’s Harbor Lake Martin, the organization has partnered with 30 different missions that serve pediatric populations with illnesses, such as cancer, organ transplants, autism, serious burns, visual impairments and spinal cord injuries.
“I can’t stress the importance of how much peace it gives people to be surrounded by families who also have a child who also has cancer or has died from cancer or is going through treatment or in remission because it’s such a devastating thing to go through and not a lot of people can share those experiences,” Hoppe said. “And they learn from one another; they become life long friends.”
One partner group includes Smile-A-Mile, which serves children with cancer or those who are survivors. Hoppe said the organizations have been partners since the beginning.
“They have multiple camps throughout the summer so we host them the most out of all of our mission partners,” Hoppe said. “They’ve been using our facilities almost as long as we’ve been open out there. So they’re a special group to us.”
Families can commiserate together at Children’s Harbor.
Because Children’s Harbor is a nonprofit, it relies on donations. Hoppe said the group also relies on volunteers.
“(Donors) can help make a difference in these families’ lives and there’s a lot of people who need these resources and the only way we continue to provide these at no costs is through those donations,” Hoppe said. “We always can use volunteers as well to help put on those programs and services, and it’s always a super rewarding volunteer experience.”