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 special health needs. In order to accomplish this goal, the group sought to answer these questions:
Based upon this research, in the fall of 2008, the group determined that a foundation should be established to pursue two separate but not unrelated goals. The first of these goals was to develop a coalition amojng the various camps for children with special health needs. The purpose of this would be to provide a cooperative effort in programming, information sharing, fund raising, soliciting donations and developing community awareness and support. The second goal was to develop a plan of action for establishing a single-site facility for the ptential user groups.
In order to pursue these goals, the group formed Mississippi's Toughest Kids Foundation (MTK), an IRS Code Section 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charity. An executive board was established, consisting of Mary Kitchens, Dan Kitchens, Ruth Wilkinson, David Wilkinson and Billy Boykin.
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 camp. As wonderful as these facilities are, they were created to provide camp for children of their denomination or for tourists on vacation. Scheduling is a problem when leasing someone else's camp. Only groups bringing kids with special needs will be using our camp... problem solved!
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 wheel chairs, those using walkers, or the blind to move around camp. Pool access can be a serious challenge to some.
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 program supplies, insurance and food. Through the use of a single facility, the facility itself, as well as the staff (program director, cooks, maintenance, housekeeping, life guards and others leading program areas), would be geared specifically to children with special health and sometimes dietary needs. Finally, this wold ensure an equal camping opportunity for all children.
Based upon a survey of the potential user groups, the facility would need to include the following:
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 have now purchased 326.39 acres! It is flat, will hold water, very easy to access and has a beautiful, clear creek running through it!