Growing Big Businesses in the Smallest of Places
The artist Pablo Picasso once said, “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” For Scott Balsley, finding his gift started as a teenager when his mom remarried and relocated to a local farm. Scott’s stepfather taught him the importance of a steady work ethic through the daily chores of feeding cows, grinding corn, and gardening. “I owe a lot to my stepfather for where I am today,” Scott shares.
Scott credits his mother for helping him understand the importance of compassion. She opened their home to neighborhood kids and teenage runaways while he was growing up. She also worked with special needs children. “Mom always taught us it’s easy to help other people,” adds Scott, “We didn’t have a lot of money, but we had time we could invest in helping others.”
Little did he know the profound impact these lessons would have on his life and career. In fact, the starting point of what is now Scott’s passion came in an unlikely way. Nearly seventeen years ago Scott created a Halloween attraction for a party at their home. The attraction became so popular that Scott and his wife Cathy felt they could do more.
“Me, my wife, and a few of our friends sat down, and that’s how the idea came about,” says Balsley. The group started talking about how Scott’s mom took care of all the neighborhood kids. “Our backyard was the place where everybody played,” Scott fondly recalls. Everyone realized a farm venue for an overnight camp would be an ideal way to create a bigger version of his mom’s efforts.
Ready to move forward, Scott and Cathy found a local realtor and started looking for land. “We decided we were going to take on the debt to buy a farm and figure out a way to make it work from there,” explains Scott. However, finding the right venue proved challenging. Most of the land the couple looked at had too many areas that weren’t accessible. “We looked at a lot of property that just wouldn’t work,” Balsley adds. After searching for a suitable property for nearly four years, their realtor decided to talk with a client that recently bought a farm. It was a long shot, but after years of searching Scott and Cathy were willing to try anything.
Surprisingly, Walton Thompson, a 91-year-old former Merchant Marine agreed to let the couple tour his property. There was just one catch; Thompson made it clear that the land wasn’t on the market. As Scott and Cathy rode around the farm, they shared their vision with Thompson of developing a camp to serve children with special needs and at-risk youth. They also realized the property was exactly what they’d been looking for during their four-year search. However, knowing it wasn’t for sale, Scott and Cathy realized they had few options except to keep looking. Mr. Thompson had other plans. As Scott and Cathy were leaving, Thompson looked Scott in the eye and said, “This farm is not for sale, but it’s for sale to you.” Walton had embraced the couple’s vision of what would become Creative Works Farm.
In the beginning, Thompson donated forty acres to the couple and allowed them to finance the rest. Scott’s flexible work schedule in construction allowed him to get things started. In a tremendous show of support, local businesses also donated time and resources towards the project. Work got underway to put in roads and construct a maintenance building that would serve as the initial day camp location. With contributions from the community, the project that was estimated to cost over $175,000 was completed for $60,000.
It took a couple of years to lay the groundwork, but the day for the official ribbon-cutting at Creative Works Farm finally came. Over a hundred members of the community, friends, family, and supporters gathered to show their enthusiasm for the project. Excited to show off their vision, Scott and Cathy invited Walton Thompson as their guest of honor. However, no one could have predicted what happened next. Walton revealed to the crowd that he had made arrangements in his will to forgive any debt still owed for the farm upon his death. Thompson then said he had reconsidered. “Why should I wait until my death for the camp to benefit? I forgive the debt now,” Walton announced to the stunned audience. Creative Works Farm owned the land free and clear. Scott thoughtfully shares, “Walton has been a real blessing to us, without his help this wouldn’t have happened.”
Scott’s vision for the camp is certainly contagious. Friends, family, and local businesses still pitch in to help the venue grow. There is now a 1950’s town named Adaville, in honor of Walton’s late wife, Ada. The town also has a Thompson General Store, in honor of Walton. Even the main road coming into the farm is Walton’s Way, small honors for a man who was essential in making Balsley’s vision a reality.
Currently, Creative Works Farm serves over a hundred children at its day camps. “Going to camp expands a child’s horizons,” says Balsley. Scott receives a lot of feedback from parents about the positive changes in their kids after experiencing the day camp. “It makes you feel good even doing something small to make children’s lives better,” explains Scott, “Being here you forget about the outside world. You get wrapped up in fun, and what the kids are doing and that makes it all worth it”.
To keep pace with the vision of the camp, this May Balsley started working full-time as the Executive Director of Creative Works Farm. Current projects include a barn that will host animal education classes, a petting zoo, and therapeutic horseback riding. “So many children respond so well to animals,” says Scott. Having an animal-related attraction seems like a natural extension of the organization’s mission.
The next phase is to transform Creative Works Farm into an overnight camp. Plans include adding a commercial kitchen, dining area, bowling alley, six cabins for campers, an art room, a theater and amphitheater, medical and staff buildings, and an office. However, the crowning jewel of the camp will be a water park with a beach entry area, lazy river, splash pad, and a full-size pool. Once they can offer overnight stays, Balsley expects to welcome over 600 children to Creative Works Farm.
The camp Balsley envisions will take about $5 million to complete. Scott acknowledges that people want to be part of something bigger than themselves, and the ambitious plan for Creative Works Farm certainly fits the bill. “Something like this brings out the best in people. People come in, and when they see a vision, it inspires them to step up. It’s humbling to see how many people want to step up and help,” Scott explains. The end goal doesn’t seem so unattainable when you consider how much Balsley and the community have accomplished already. “Our ultimate goal is to build something that will last,” Scott adds.
The seeds of Scott Balsley’s future were planted early with the blend of his stepfather’s work ethic and his mother’s compassion. Walton Thompson found a surprising legacy at 91-years-old. However, one thing is certainly true, they both found the meaning and purpose of life.