By Sheena Barnett
OKOLONA – Archery, canoeing, horseback riding and zip-lining are creating smiles for kids of all ages and abilities this week.
Elizabeth Gwin Session for Special Children at Camp Tik-A-Witha has offered new experiences and accomplishments for 45 children. Girl Scouts of the Heart of the South Council spent June at the camp, but this week most of the children have developmental disabilities. Some non-disabled children also joined the camp as Let’s All Play campers.
This week they’ve all camped together, learning how to shoot a bow and arrow, swimming, cooking out and watching movies, among many other activities.
“It’s all about the smiles on their faces when they accomplish something they’ve never done before, and something they’ve never had the opportunity to do before,” said the camp’s director, Beth Moody.
The campers come from across the Heart of the South’s coverage area, which stretches across Northeast Mississippi, the Memphis area and into Arkansas.
Camper Austin Brown, 12, of Memphis, spent Wednesday afternoon in the pool.
“I love swimming; it’s my favorite sport,” said Brown, who is on the autism spectrum. “I bob in and out of the water and squirt water at people. I love doing that.”
Jeb Polatty, 8, from Memphis, was swimming with Anthony Morrison, a volunteer who’s been coming to the camp since he was 15. Now 44, both of his daughters attend camp during the Elizabeth Gwin Session as Let’s All Play campers.
Jeb, who has Down syndrome, thanked Morrison for diving after his goggles and jumped in and out of the water.
“Swimming is fun,” he said. “I rode horses.”
His older sister, Emlyn, who turns 11 on Friday, said Jeb has attended the camp for three years, but she’s there as a first-year Let’s All Play camper. She got to go zip-lining for the first time, which she said was “awesome.”
“I’ve learned about the other kids and how they like to do things,” she said. “Jeb loves camp. I’ll definitely be back next year.”
Abby Arnold, 15 and a junior camp counselor, is there with her grandmother and other family members for the week.
She’s had such a good time interacting with the other kids that she’s considered a career path that will allow her to work with people of all abilities.
“I walk with (the special campers), and we talk almost anything,” she said. “We give them choices instead of just telling them ‘No.’ I’ll read books to them so they’ll go to sleep at night. They have the best time here, and it’s fun to have fun with them.”
Girl Scouts Heart of the South Council’s board president, Kathy Webb, is volunteering at the camp this week with two service dogs, Daffney and Sadie.
“This is the most amazing experience I’ve ever been a part of,” she said. “It’s amazing to see a child who’s never ridden a horse, and they put on a helmet and ride. The dogs bring them out of their shell. This is the highlight of the summer.”