LONG BEACH, MS (WLOX) - A camp that started in Florida just for people with disabilities is now being offered in South Mississippi. Camp Able is designed to give special needs children a place to play, explore and celebrate their differences. The man who created the program has strong ties to the Long Beach community.
The youngsters took turns on Wednesday slipping and sliding down a watery slope. For many children with special needs, water slides and camps are not part of their summer schedule.
"There's just a really big need for camps like this in Mississippi. We do a lot of activities that are just normal summer camp things. We don't try to focus on what these kids can't do. We focus on what they can," said Olivia Feeney, Camp Able Co-Director.
"If you're in a wheelchair, we can get you up on a water slide. If you are not verbal, we have ways to communicate. That's our goal here is to find ways not to make everybody the same, but to celebrate all our differences," said Father Kyle Bennett.
Bennett started Camp Able nine years ago in Marco Island, FL.
"I grew up working with folks with special needs when I was in high school and college, so it made sense to me to keep doing it when I got older and invite as many people as I can to do it with me," said Bennett.
Bennett helped provide funding to bring Camp Able to Coast Episcopal School in Long Beach. He once served as the school's chaplain and was a former priest at St. Patrick's Episcopal Church in Long Beach.
"We try to make this special. We call it like Disney World, family reunion and Christmas night all wrapped up into one thing," said Bennett. "I'm the biggest kid here. I'm the number one camper, so I love it."
The 12 campers are between the ages of five and 14. Each child is paired up with a counselor. They get to enjoy games, music, nature trail walks and arts and crafts.
"We are unique in the fact that we have so many different activities for them to do, and we let them be who they want to be, and we don't restrain them in any way. We let them be free," said Camp Able Co-Director Callie Bennett.
The camp ends on Thursday with a talent show. From the looks of it, Camp Able's debut in South Mississippi is a splashing success.
"It brings me a whole lot of joy, so I wouldn't miss it for the world. In fact, I had a hard time because we started one in Louisiana as well, and it's going on the same week as this one. So I had to choose between the two. Growing up and living here, it's good to be back home," said Bennett.
Camp Able is in its second year in Pollock, LA. There are plans to start the program next summer in Tennessee and Colorado.