Whispering Hope Ranch Foundation, which provides hope and healing to children with special needs through inclusive camp experiences, has been awarded $232,000 through the Mercy C.A.R.E.S. Community Reinvestment grant program to support the purchase of adaptive equipment and fund animal care for the organization’s Nature’s Nurses program.

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“Nature’s Nurses brings together children and animals living with disabilities or illnesses for thoughtful interaction during the normal course of our camp programming,” says Mary Clark, executive director for Whispering Hope Ranch Foundation. “Our goal through this program is to give our campers a sense of belonging and community and enhance well-being during and after their week-long camp session.”

According to Clark, animal interaction and equine-facilitated programs have a wide range of benefits for children with special needs, including:

• Improved emotional stability and self-esteem

• Accelerated physical, mental, and emotional healing

• Unconditional acceptance — animals are nonjudgmental and uncomplicated

• Nurturing — psychologically, when humans nurture animals, their own need to be nurtured is fulfilled.

• Increased socialization — animals create a relaxed environment making social interactions more comfortable and easier

• Safe physical contact — the touch of an animal is non-threatening for children who have suffered abuse.

• Physiological benefits such as decreased heart rate and blood pressure

“Since opening our doors in 1999, we have provided a safe, fun, and therapeutic respite for children living with any medical, physical, developmental, or emotional disability. Nature’s Nurses is the heart of the Ranch experience and a critical reason for our continued impact,” Clark says. “Through this grant, Whispering Hope will be able to ensure that the healing that happens between campers and our gentle animal residents continues for years to come.”

 Mercy C.A.R.E.S., which stands for Community Action Resources Education and Service, is Mercy Care’s community giving initiative. Through grant funding, sponsorships, volunteer efforts and board participation, Mercy C.A.R.E.S supports AHCCCS’ Whole Person Care Initiative, which addresses Social Risk Factors to improve health outcomes.

“Through Mercy C.A.R.E.S., we have a robust Community Reinvestment grant program. To date, it has awarded more than $15 million in funding to organizations like Whispering Hope, each of which is doing critical work to help the community each day,” says Debbie Hillman Toll, chief administrative officer for Mercy Care. “Our focus with each grant is to address Mercy Care’s key community health focus areas, which are centered on advancing health equity by managing chronic conditions, supporting mental health and well-being, addressing housing security, and empowering recovery from substance use.”