The Still Place is a charitable organization providing rest, renewal and re-creation to families living with serious illness in hope of fostering resiliency, empowerment and self-determination. We provide free of charge vacations, uniquely planned and lovingly facilitated for families who find it difficult if not impossible to get away, plan and experience the healing restorative properties of a family vacation.
Dawn and Craig are a physician couple who have practiced medicine for many years. Dawn has worked for 30 years as an Internist and Pediatrician continuing to practice as a traveling Hospitalist and Hospice and Palliative Care physician. Craig has recently retired from the University Of Florida College of Medicine after over 45 years as a Hematologist, US Army Reserve Colonel and Medical Educator.
This is the story of how The Still Place came to be, but beware we have no miracle drugs, concoctions or answers we just offer our guests a still place… a still place to play, rest, reflect, relax, remember and restore your soul when the journey’s been tough.
Once upon a time in the early 90s, Dawn took care of a little girl named Lisa. Lisa was thirteen and had a disease that had claimed her mother’s life and that of several siblings. She had reached a point in her disease where she spent more time in the hospital than out of the hospital. She was referred to Dawn as a adolescent problem-child. Who really knows how it all happened but Lisa started coming home with Dawn for dinner, then weekend sleep-overs and mini-vacations (Boundaries, right? Dawn claims that medicine is still an art and art has no boundaries).
One Sunday morning while scrambling eggs, Lisa started showing Dawn how her momma used to do it and then all kinds of memories spilled out of that little girl, all the things she wanted to show Dawn. The day ended with Lisa beaming after having scrubbed the kitchen floor sparkling clean, making her special hot wings for dinner and all the while remembering and talking about her mom. Somehow everything changed after that day, no more crisis interventions for Lisa. She got home to her siblings and grandmother more often, she behaved better. She was known and she was loved. She had meaning and purpose beyond being a patient or a sick kid.
Working in hospice many years later, Dawn recalls a moment sitting on the back porch of a mobile home with a young father dying of Ewing’s sarcoma. He was swatting mosquitoes in the Florida heat peering at the deep green algae laden water of a plastic-lined swimming pool as he spoke. His teenaged son dodged in and out of the house on the way to practice something, his wife cooked dinner, the screen door wouldn’t stay on its track and his little girls ran in and about singing his favorite gospel songs trying to pull him away for the incapacitating pain he experienced. He looked up with a faraway gaze as he smoked a little something and said to Dawn, “What I really wish is that I could just go out to the country somewhere, breath deep, stop worrying about the pool I can’t clean, the screen door I can’t fix . I just need a little time to drop a line in a pond or hit a few golf balls with my son and then, I think I could tell him the things I want him to know before I go.”
A few years later Dawn learned about the Imus Ranch and the way the kids with leukemia came from the inner city to do ranch chores and how that seemed to give them a strength perhaps a resilence to have whatever Lisa had experienced that day. Maybe kids need meaning and purpose too? Well, of course they do! And then, the dream started, what if something like that could be created in Florida? So, Dawn and Craig purchased 60 acres and built a big barn and started a herd of Cracker Cows on some old land with lots of ponds and a fairway where golf balls could be whacked. And a few more years and jobs drifted by.
One day, Dawn looked in the mirror and noticed a very dark freckle on her left shoulder. She was busy with a new job. A year later when things were calmer, she was about to go on a mission trip to Nicauragua followed by another to Ukraine the spot got her more urgent attention. She decided she better have a biopsy before she left the country for such a long time. On a Saturday morning as she was packing to join Craig and a group of medical students for Nicauragua, the doctor who had done the biopsy texted her a message that said, “ you were right, melanoma”. With a swift knife and minus a few lymph nodes Dawn had learned what it was like to face a pretty scary cancer. Thankfully, Dawn was lucky and is now four years cancer-free, lathered in sunscreen and grateful.
Dawn and Craig loved the ranch, the baby calves, tending the cows but it all occurred in the hot Florida sun. Dawn tried for a few years to hold onto her dream of Dancing Leaf Farm, a cracker farm that could provide a loving natural environment to experience farm life for families experiencing illness. Red lights started showing up everywhere. And this time the cancer had taught Dawn to listen a little deeper.
That listening and healing time took her to her Mountain retreat in North Carolina. She and her realtor friend, Richard, looked at every farm around Clay County and then, Richard, a man of great faith, told Dawn he had learned of a property that was in her price range but definitely wasn’t a farm. He thought she should take a look.
In December of 2014 Dawn and Craig purchased the house and 27 acres along the pristine Compass Creek in Hayesville NC that has become The Still Place. They were able to start serving families and obtaining income by May 2014. Corny as it sounds, “Build it and they will come seemed to be the way of things.” Dawn and Craig formed Laughing Waterdog, LLC as the umbrella company to purchase and own the property and buildings. They used the Cherokee name for the Tusquittee Valley as the company name and logo. The “laughing waterdog”(AKA Hellbender) was the name the Cherokee gave to the salamander or mud puppy frequently found in the valley creeks and rivers.
In the first year we invited four families who have co-created and gifted the property with their presence, love and ideas. Our VRBO guests have layered their love and happy memories in the house and have provided the $12,000 income that it takes to maintain the property covering utilities, insurance and taxes. In 2014 renovations were made to the retreat house sunroom, mudroom and attic.
Dawn went back to work as a physician in order to expand the central retreat house in response to the families request that two families or extended families and friends be able to stay at one time in order to support and enjoy one another. Hannah joined us in 2015 with her many talents as our program director. In 2015 we were able to provide 7 families with free vacation experiences.
The children of our family and friends dedicated their Camp Huckleberry time in 2014 to build a playscape and the Hobbit house and in 2015 built the treehouse seen below. The Still Place was created as a separate entity in 2015 and has an application pending for non-profit 501(c)(3) status.
In the fall of 2015, Craig was diagnosed with advanced cancer of the tonsil. Through prayers and support of our family, friends and community we have weathered this storm. We have all learned more about being patients and caregivers and pray that our experience will enhance our ability to serve families.
We look forward to a summer filled with love and laughter on Compass Creek.