For many children, the summer months mean cookouts, frozen treats, trips and summer camps. But for over 55,000 school-aged kids in Mississippi, year-round camps have never been an option due to special needs. Until now. Mississippi’s Toughest Kids Foundation (MTKF) is constructing Camp Kamassa, 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.
“There is no other barrier-free, fully accessible facility like Camp Kamassa in Mississippi,” said Mary Kitchens, MTKF founder and executive director. While roughly two dozen camps for children with special needs exist in Mississippi each year, many are housed at facilities that are not fully accessible. “Our vision is to provide a place where all campers will experience the fun, adventure, educational, and therapeutic benefits of traditional camping experiences regardless of their different abilities.”
Located on 426 acres in north Copiah County, everything about Camp Kamassa has been designed and is currently being built for thousands of campers in all 82 Mississippi counties and beyond.
The camp incorporates key educational elements into the design and construction, including areas where campers and students will be engrossed in biological sciences, agriculture, cultural and archeological studies, dietary science, literacy and environmental sciences. Traditional camp activities such as high and low ropes courses, swimming, canoeing, fishing, archery, baseball, horseback riding, ziplining, woodworking, theater will be offered. A state-of-the-art infirmary will also allow children to receive medical treatments without having to leave camp. Paired with educational experiences to help kids develop new skills, increase confidence and build stronger relationships, Camp Kamassa strives to create a sense of belonging and social/emotional wellbeing.
While life can be difficult for these children, Camp Kamassa plans to be a bright spot of hope and community. “When it came time to name the camp, we called the north Mississippi Choctaws and asked for a word that meant ‘tough, persevere under difficulties, not give up’ and were told Kamassa,” said Kitchens, “That perfectly describes our campers.”
Kitchens knows a great deal about perseverance. In 1977, Kitchens’ son, Dan, was diagnosed with cancer. In 1980, he went to Mississippi’s first summer camp for kids with cancer. It changed his life and the lives of everyone in his family. Suddenly, Mary was thrown into a new world of “special needs.” She realized that Mississippi is extremely limited in opportunities for families affected by special needs. She made it her life’s work to change that by founding the Mississippi’s Toughest Kids Foundation in 2008.
MTKF also knows a thing or two without partnerships. When the foundation purchased the property and began considering how to build a $27 million facility, they knew they would need help. Enter the U.S. Department of Defense’s Innovative Readiness Training Program. Through this program, military personnel from all branches of the military and from across the nation come to Crystal Springs during their two-week annual training periods. “Their assistance provides these mostly civil engineering units with deployment readiness training,” said Kitchens. “For us, it means donated labor-saving us millions in construction costs. Construction is roughly halfway complete with plans to open in 2024.”
Kitchens says the foundation also knew it was important to have a local partner that could help ensure the camp was around for the long term, which they found in the Community Foundation for Mississippi. Through a fund at CFM, donors can help support the ongoing construction of the camp and the sustainability of operating the camp once doors open.
Want to be a part of building Camp Kamassa? Help support the camp through their fund here.