Camp For Mentally Retarded Children Turns 40 Years Old

The sound of laughter at a summer camp in Forrest County is the result of years of one woman's dedication and hard work. Abbie Rogers says when she decided to open a camp for mentally retarded children 40 years ago, the community wasn't very supportive. Now attitudes have changed.

"The doors have been opened for them to be apart of the community," Rogers said. "They're seeing them enough that they're not seeing the differences in the child or seeing an adult that has a problem. We should look at it that way."

Since 1961 countless numbers of mentally retarded children have gotten the chance to enjoy camp activities like sports, swimming and arts and crafts. The youngest child this year is 18 months old. The camp became so popular, that Rogers didn't have the heart to turn away campers once they turned 21 years old. So she started a second camp for adults. The counselors say they teach campers to take pride in themselves.

"They're just as special and unique as everybody else, and nothing really holds them back because they're still as smart as everybody else," camp counselor Katie Dedeaux said.

Rogers admits she was a reluctant pioneer when she started the camp, but looking back she says it was a calling. The 81-year-old she says as long as she has the energy and the good health, she intends to do her part in keeping the Abbie Rogers Civitan Camp a success.

"I just don't believe in sitting and doing nothing, and I've got the energy so why don't I do it," Rogers said.

Rogers also runs a program at Trinity Episcopal Church in Hattiesburg called "Mother's Day Out." She and other volunteers take care of disabled children for a few hours once a week to give their parents a break

by Danielle Thomas