In 1977 Jim and I heard those words no parent ever wishes to hear, "Your child has cancer." There were surgeries, radiation treatments, and chemo with all its side effects. We didn't realize it then, but God had a plan, and a sick little boy was a necessary part of that plan. Our family founded Mississippi's Toughest Kids Foundation, and the whole family, including that little sick boy who is all grown up now, is very involved and thankful to be a part of bringing Camp Kamassa to Mississippi.
Mississippi's Toughest Kids Foundation was founded in May 2008. The foundation received word in December 2008 from the IRS that it had been ruled a public non-profit under section 501(c)(3).
From the beginning, volunteers and board members have visited out-of-state special needs camps and attended several American Camping Association conventions. During the summer, visits have been made to Mississippi camps holding sessions for children with special needs.
The original founding board consisted of Mr. and Mrs. David Wilkinson (Brandon), Billy Boykin (Madison), Dan Kitchens (Crystal Springs), and Mary Kitchens (Crystal Springs). The first office was a room within the Kitchens Law Firm.
When the Firm purchased a large warehouse with front offices, MTK moved to its present location at 123 E. Georgetown Street in Crystal Springs.
MTK is making Mississippi history!
Mr. Jimmy Buchanan
Assistant School Superintendent for Copiah County Schools Hazlehurst, MS
Dr. Linda Channell
Associate Professor at Jackson State University
Crystal Springs, MS
Mrs. Sally Garland, Mayor
Crystal Springs, MS
Mr. Dan Kitchens, Attorney
Kitchens Law Firm
Co-founder of Mississippi's Toughest Kids Foundation
Crystal Springs, MS
Mrs. Mary Kitchens
Director, and co-founder, Mississippi's Toughest Kids Foundation
Crystal Springs, MS
Mr. Jeff Knight
Partner at Mississippi Machinery, WGK Engineers, retired Wesson, MS
Mr. Rowan Torrey
Dynamic Educational Systems
Mrs. Carol S. Rigby
Head Master of Copiah Academy, retired
Dr. Rathi Iyer
Pediatric Oncologist and Hematologist
University of Mississippi Medical Center, retired
CMSGT Stacy Gilman
Mississippi Air National Guard
South Bridge, MA
During 2008, a group of long-time volunteers for Camp Rainbow, a summer camp for pediatric cancer patients, began discussing the need for the construction of a camping facility for chronically ill children in the State of Mississippi. The idea was to build a "super" camp designed uniquely for children with all special needs. In order to accomplish this goal, the group sought to answer these questions:
What camps for children with special needs exist in Mississippi?
Every summer, there are about two dozen camps for children with special needs led by dedicated volunteers and wonderful foundations in Mississippi HOWEVER, they must lease church campgrounds, state parks, Civitan camps, and scout camps in order to hold camp. While thankful to hold camp, the facilities are not totally handicapped accessible, most facilities don't have an infirmary, and available weeks are limited. Camps for those with special needs are given the weeks at the beginning of summer when not all their campers are out of school or at the end of the summer when the campers must return to school.
Who are the potential user groups for Camp Kamassa?
It is our desire for Camp Kamassa to be used by thousands of campers with various illnesses and challenges including, but not limited to 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. It is our plan that as these kids become adults, an adult camp will be available for them, as well. We can also envision senior adult groups and schools using the camp for day trips. OUR FACILITY WILL ONLY BE LIMITED BY OUR IMAGINATION AND YOURS.
What would be the advantage of a single facility to meet the needs of all children with special needs?
The benefits of a single facility for these groups are numerous. A single facility would ensure the availability of prime summer weeks to these groups. It would also ensure a cooperative effort in programming, volunteer recruitment, and solicitation of donated goods. Costs could be cut through group purchasing of medical supplies, crafts, and other programs supplies, insurance, and food. Through the use of a single facility, the facility itself would be designed to meet the needs of all the campers. The staff would be specifically trained to work with the unique needs of the campers. Finally, this would ensure an equal camping opportunity for all children.
Are there existing models for a camp for children with special needs?
There are many examples. We have visited 11 camps specially designed for campers with special needs. These camps can be found in Kentucky, North Carolina, Texas, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Georgia. At this time, Mississippi doesn't have a camp like this, but we will soon.
Is Camp Kamassa (Mississippi's Toughest Kids Foundation) non-profit?
Yes, in 2008, we hired a lawyer to help us draw up bylaws and apply for an IRS Code Section 501(c)(3). We were notified in December 2008 that we were a tax-exempt charity in good standing with the state of MS. Our first executive board was established, consisting of Mary Kitchens, Dan Kitchen (both of Crystal Springs), Ruth and David Wilkinson (both of Brandon), and Billy Boykin (Jackson).
Mississippi does not have a camp devoted solely to children with special needs, although there are many groups around our state holding camps for these kids. These are great camps, organized and staffed with volunteers who lease church camps or state parks for their camps. As wonderful as these facilities are, they were created to provide camps for children of their denomination or for tourists on vacation. Scheduling is a problem when leasing someone else's camp. Mississippi special needs groups will have FIRST priority!!!
Often other facilities don't have an infirmary, making the job of the nurses very difficult. Usually, there aren't more than one or two toilet stalls or showers large enough for a child needing assistance. None of these camps have sidewalks connecting all the buildings and leading to activities, making it hard for children in wheelchairs, those using walkers, or the blind to move around the camp. Pool access can be a serious challenge to some.
The site investigation committee, chaired by Dan Kitchens, looked at many possible sites. The land had to be relatively flat, able to hold water for a lake, easy to access, and hopefully with a creek. Over and over, the land did not meet our requirements.
We had originally hoped and prayed for about 150 acres, but in 2013 we borrowed $600,000 to purchase 326 acres! It is flat, will hold water for a lake, is very easy to access, and has beautiful Turkey Creek running through it! In June 2017, we paid off our loan.