Daily photos by John Godbey|
Evan Lott gets a “fisheye” view of a bream he and his mother, Lori Lott, caught in a pond in Hartselle. Jasen and Sherry Reagin have set aside 80 acres of their property for handicapped children to fish, hunt and observe wildlife.
Decatur businessman turns 80-acre farm into wildlife habitat for special-needs children
By Deangelo McDaniel
HARTSELLE — On an unusually warm winter day, an elderly man fishing on Jasen and Sherry Reagin’s farm off Indian Hills Road smiled.
A few days later, Evan Lott, a 3-year-old boy from Hartselle, fished in the same pond and he smiled, too.
“If you’ve ever seen a child smile from doing something he’s never done before, it’s highly addictive,” said Reagin, a Decatur businessman.
Touched by the experience, Reagin decided to turn his 80-acre farm into a place where special needs children can fish, observe nature and do things that are routine for most of us.
Starting a ministry
In January, the Reagins started Evan’s Ark Ministries, a non-profit organization for children with physical handicaps and special needs.
Their goal is simple: Give children who may never play youth sports an opportunity to smile and have their moment.
Evan, the little boy for whom the ministry is named, was born with spina bifida and uses a wheelchair. He fished on the farm with his grandfather before the Reagins established Evan’s Ark.
Evan’s parents, Jeff and Lori Lott, reside in Hartselle and attend East High Baptist Church with the Reagins.
“This has been so wonderful to see Evan be able to do something that brings joy to his face,” his mother said. “He loves the outdoors, and he talks about coming out here all the time.”
Clara Miller, another child with spina bifida, enjoys the farm as much as Evan.
“There’s not very many places we can take her to have fun,” her grandmother, Theresa Mastin, said.
Miller, the daughter of Shohn and Eddie Miller of Hartselle, recently had a rod inserted in her back. She can’t move her body from the waist down.
“The public parks are not set up for children like Clara,” Mastin said. “Bringing her here will allow her to grow mentally and physically. All she talks about is going fishing.”
Pointing to Evan and Clara fishing from a pier he modified for special needs children, Reagin said: “That’s what this is all about. That’s where the real joy is.”
Evan’s Ark is a venture that almost didn’t happen. About five years ago, Reagin put the farm up for sale and had three potential buyers. But something wouldn’t let him sell it “because God had a plan for me, and I stepped out on a leap of faith,” he explained.
“To whom much is given, much is expected,” he added. “I’ve had more than I ever deserve, and the Lord called on me to give something back.”
Reagin tried twice to launch the concept, but friends discouraged him, and, “I didn’t put it in the Lord’s hands,” he said.
His lack of patience also hurt previous attempts.
“I had to learn that this was not going to happen overnight,” he explained. “I had to sit back and let God open the door, so we could give Him the honor and glory.”
Then that winter day arrived in 2006 and little Evan tossed a reel in the 5-acre pond.
The sun was setting in the west when he hauled in his first fish. Standing about 20 yards to the east, Reagin almost cried when he saw the smile on the boy’s face.
“I could see something magical, and God just guided my heart,” Reagin said.
He talked with church members and they persuaded him to name the concept Evan’s Ark.
The farm offers more than fishing. Children are able to observe wildlife from specially designed shooting houses that hold wheelchairs.
They can ride all-terrain vehicles through a one-mile nature trail. The Ark has a pontoon boat that is modified for children with needs. A shooting range lets the most physically challenged child shoot a BB gun.
“We use a hydraulic syringe trigger so even a bedridden kid can participate,” Reagin said. “Every child, no matter what their condition is, should be able to shoot a BB gun.”
Jack the donkey visits with Evan Lott at Evan’s Ark.
The Reagins remembered that children love to eat. They have a more than 100-year-old cabin with a table designed for children in wheelchairs.
There’s also an outside seating area where food is cooked. The area is decorated with collectible signs and pre-electric power cooking utensils.
Evan’s Ark opens twice monthly, and parents have to call in advance to bring their child.
“We have to make sure we have the appropriate staff,” he said.
The Reagins do not turn down any child, and everything is free.
“There is no handicap that will prevent a child from coming here,” Reagin said. “We don’t deny anyone from coming, and we do what we can to get them here.”
The Reagins do require two counselors per child, so volunteers are always needed.
“This has been like dropping a pebble in water,” Reagin said. “The ripple starts small, then it grows bigger. These kids are born in a cruel world that often shuns them. They don’t have a choice about how they are born and do the very best they can. God is using me to give this to them and I’m thankful for that.”
Call to reserve
Evan’s Ark Ministries is looking for corporate sponsors or individual donations. If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation or tour the facility before making a contribution, contact Jasen Reagin at 353-4510 or Jeff Lott at 773-5397. The next open date is June 16. You may also call these numbers to reserve a spot for your child.
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