Summer camp is a tradition for many in Mississippi. While on break from school, students get the opportunity to develop social skills by mixing and mingling with similar-aged children from different communities. Summer camp provides a chance to get creative, experience new things, and enjoy the great outdoors. Socialization, central to the summer camp experience, helps children grow and develop as much as reading or eating vegetables! Those are benefits every parent desires for their children, but not all camps are suited for everyone. Children and adults with disabilities often can’t attend camp because facilities are unable to accommodate their unique needs. But that is changing in Mississippi!
In 1977, Jim and Mary Kitchens discovered their son had cancer. As their son underwent the trials and tribulations of treating childhood cancer, an idea was born. It took almost three decades later, but the Kitchens family, including their son, founded Mississippi’s Toughest Kids Foundation (MTKF) and started a mission to create Camp Kamassa for the special needs community in Mississippi.
Camp Kamassa will be Mississippi’s first and only year-round, fully handicap-accessible camp facility for children and adults with serious illnesses, physical and mental challenges, and other special needs. People of all ages affected by special needs have limited recreational opportunities in our state. There is no other barrier-free, fully accessible facility like Camp Kamassa in Mississippi. ALL campers will be able to participate in ALL activities.
If you’re wondering who could benefit from Camp Kamassa once the doors are open, the ponds are stocked, and camp is in session, it’s a long list. Camp Kamassa has been designed to accommodate the needs of campers with various illnesses and challenges. Some of those include asthma, spina bifida, cancer, HIV, muscular dystrophy, diabetes, brain injuries, hemophilia, Tourette syndrome, autism, transplant recipients, kids in foster care, arthritis, visual and hearing impairments, developmental disabilities, bereavement, sickle cell disease, Celiac disease, Crohn’s and colitis, and so much more. As these kids become adults, an adult camp will be available for them, too. Not to mention, senior adult groups and schools can use the camp for day trips!
Every detail, including the name, has been maliciously designed with those differently abled in mind. Founders wanted to stay true to the roots of the land, which is located in Copiah County, meaning Calling Panther in Choctaw. MTKF called the Choctaws in North Mississippi and asked for a word that meant “tough, persevere under difficulties, or don’t give up.” Kamassa was the word given!
It has taken 10 years and an army, literally, to get the MTKF vision to become a reality. Members of the Air Force, National Guard, Marines, and Navy from all across the country are gaining essential skills while helping to build Camp Kamassa. Their role in the camp’s construction is part of the military’s Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) which teams reservists with needed infrastructure projects in communities nationwide. As of summer 2021, eight duplex cabins, six family cabins, a maintenance barn, an open-air recreation building, and a multi-purpose building are all in different stages of completion.
Camp Kamassa is in the final home stretch, with the clinic and cafeteria as the last vital project to be completed before campers can safely stay. And while a whole lot has been accomplished by countless donors, businesses, military, and the city of Crystal Springs, the camp isn’t quite finished. Optimistic projections see Camp Kamassa welcoming campers in the fall of 2023. You can help bring the Kitchens 40+ year vision of an all-inclusive camp in Mississippi to reality by learning more about ways to support the mission of Camp Kamassa!
Photos courtesy of Mississippi Toughest Kid Foundation Facebook Page