By Laura Lee Leathers

Mary Kitchens (left) with Arlie Cooper, Mississippi’s Little Miss Wheelchair 2024

The remarkable Mary Kitchens often wears a small locket displaying these words, “Never, Never, Never Give Up.” It reminds her to keep moving forward regarding the vision God gave her years ago.

The vision is a camp for children and adults who have special needs, serious illnesses, and physical, mental, and emotional challenges. The name Camp Kamassa means “persevere under difficult circumstances.”

Camp Kamassa, located in Copiah County, will soon be the home of Mississippi’s only fully handicap-accessible camp. The facility is a host, partnering with special needs camps and providing year-round access. Hosting summer camps, retreats, proms, and children’s parties, the possibilities are endless.

It becomes clear why God gave Mary the idea when you learn about her background and experiences. He also affirmed it with a Scripture verse — Hebrews 12:13 NIV.

The Mississippi Toughest Kids Foundation (MTKF), a 501(c)(3), was created in 2008. The foundation purchased more than 400 acres of land in 2013 and 400 more in 2022.

Today, Camp Kamassa is a year away from completion. The sale of a cookbook, in-kind donations, and Mississippi legislation have provided funding for the $30 million facility.

Even the Pentagon is involved. The campsite provides a training area for each branch of military personnel. Land foundational work, eight duplex cabins, and a multi use building are the projects they have completed. MTKF provides the supplies. This year, construction is underway for a swimming pool, an infirmary, and additional buildings.

Why does Mary still feel called to lead this endeavor when most folks in her age bracket are slowing down (she is a year away from being an octogenarian)? It goes back to never giving up. “When God tells you to do something, you had better do it.”

And He gave her the passion to do His assignment. He has also gifted her with the ability, surrounded her with support from family, friends, volunteers, and connected her with other camp directors and experts.

There are two dozen special needs camps for children throughout the state. Mary’s dream is to see this expanded to new camps for individuals with Down Syndrome, kidney and heart disease, hearing loss and blindness.

Looking forward to the camp’s opening, Mary said her children told her they would put a rocking chair, her Bible, and a coffee pot on the balcony of the second floor of the main building. She said, “From this location, I will enjoy watching the children and what God has accomplished.”

Mary advises readers of a certain age, “Don’t sit at home. Ask God to open your eyes to where you can get plugged into. It is a joy to be involved. We have been given this time beyond our working years –invest them.”

If you want to donate, volunteer, or take a tour, please call 601.892.1117. Mary would love an invitation to come and speak to your church or organization about Camp Kamassa. Ask her about the stories regarding her homemade oatmeal cookies, almost a registered trademark for the camp.

Mary and her husband, James W. Kitchens (Presiding Mississippi Supreme Justice), have five children and thirteen grandchildren.

Visit the website, www.campkamassa.com, to learn more and sign up for the newsletter at the website. Email: mtk@mtkfound.com Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MTKFoundation

Laura Lee Leathers is a writer and speaker. Imagine Lois Lane, over 65, living on a farm. Her metropolis is the area of freelance writing. Her primary love interest is the Word of God. She digs for information, interviews fascinating people, offers a cup of biblical hospitali-tea, encourages, and helps others with the how-to’s of life. Visit LauraLeeLeathers.com.