by James Coulter
When Reggie Baxter of Lennar Homes learned that a local organization needed a place to host their annual hog hunts for terminally-ill children, he did not think twice about donating his own ranch to the operation.
Born and raised in Polk County, Baxter is no stranger to giving away free homes. He already provided three houses to local disabled veterans through Operation Finally Home, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing housing to veterans and first responders.
He’s also an avid outdoorsman. He loves to fish and hunt in the great outdoors, especially with his grandchildren. He wanted to give terminally-ill children the same opportunity, so he donated his ranch in Haines City, Creek Legacy Ranch, to be utilized for hunts hosted by the South Central Florida chapter of KIDZ Outdoors.
“I have been very blessed in what I do for a living, and we try to give back to the community,” he said. “I have grandkids, we love this Florida life with hunting and fishing. And when Gene approached me about it, it was no question about whether or not we would do it, it was just how we could help to make it better. It was never why we would do it or how we would do it. We were approached with it, we were going to do it.”
Kidz Outdoors is a 501 c3 organization that takes handicapped and terminally-ill children into the outdoors to hunt, fish, and overall experience things they typically cannot do without outside help due to their condition. They have several chapters nationwide, with their national headquarters located in Alabama.
“Nobody makes any money from this organization,” explained Gene Smith, President of the South Central Florida Chapter. “Everything we make goes towards putting these kids out in the woods or out on the water or to cancer research and treatment.”
Kidz Outdoors takes several disabled or terminally-ill children over the weekend on hunting, fishing, and camping trips. Whatever a child wishes to do, the organization facilitates a trip so that they can do it.
Often, these children will go on hog hunts and are asked what they most want to do. Whatever the answer, whether it’s harvesting a buck or landing a big catch, the organization then facilitates another event, especially for that child and does everything for them from providing lodging, travel, pictures, and mounting trophies.
“A lot of these kids are terminally ill,” Smith said. “To know we can change their life for a day, that is our deal. If we can give them one good day where they do not need to worry about hospitals or doctors, they can be a normal kid…they are not a handicapped kid that they are a normal kid.”
Smith has been involved with Kidz Outdoors for the past seven years. He became an advisor after the original board members dispersed three years ago. They had hosted their “dream” hog hunt for the past two years without a fundraiser locally. This year, they started it back up with a full group to raise funds in central Florida.
Previously, they had hosted their hunts in Polk City. Last year they lost the piece of land where they hosted the hunt. He mentioned their predicament to Baxter, who replied by offering to donate his ranch to the cause.
“I told him what we were going through and he stuck his hand out and told him to host the hunt here,” he said. “Our long-term dream was to secure a big ranch like that where we can have the whole event there and do more with the kids. With one handshake, Reggie made that dream come true by offering his ranch to us to use.”
Smith most appreciates being able to see these children, who are often confined to hospitals indoors, being able to venture outside and explore to their heart’s content. Being able to see children achieve such confidence likewise inspires confidence.
“Typically, when we get these kids, many of them have had severe medical issues their entire life, and they are used to knowing their limitations of what they can and can’t do,” Smith said. “So when they come that morning and we tell them they are going on a swamp buggy, and going with dogs to catch a hog and provide meat for their family and see the confidence that builds in them when they can do that, to put it out of their mind that this wasn’t something they could achieve, it is unbelievable the reaction that we get out of these kids because they don’t think they are capable of doing this.”
Kidz Outdoors will be hosting its annual fundraiser dinner in February 2024. To learn more about the organization and its upcoming events, visit their website at: https://www.kidzoutdoors.org/ or South Central Florida Kidz Outdoors on Facebook.