Stan Glover floats in the Frank P. Phillips YMCA pool while clutching a green pool noodle loosely around his waist.
Beside him is a friend who, if given the chance, can tell you everything he wore on that day a year ago, down to the designer and button color.
Stan turns toward a metal fence, painted black, glances at his brother, Rice Glover, and smiles.
“He is always smiling,” says Rice, board president of Special Needs, Special Spirit.
The 65-year-old Stan, along with 17 disabled teens and adults from throughout the Golden Triangle, participated in Camp with a Mission this week. They were accompanied by about 10 camp volunteers.
The four-day camp is a program of Special Needs, Special Spirit, originally known as ARC of Lowndes County.
“Our first year we had eight (people), and this year enrollment is 25; every year it’s increased,” said Norma Jones, wearing a neon-colored T-shirt Tuesday with “Camp with a Mission” emblazoned on it with fabric paint.
Camp activities include swimming, arts and crafts, physical activities in the gymnasium and lunch, noted Rice Glover.
According to the U.S Census, 1 in 3 adults in Mississippi has a disability. About 7.5 percent — 4,394 adults — of Lowndes County’s estimated population of 58,595 have a disability.
The goal of Special Needs, Special Spirit is to provide activity, socialization, education and support to special needs individuals and their families. Planned events throughout the year also include periodic family fun days and the Gutter Busters Bowling League offered October through April.
Jones, who serves as the camp director, was instrumental in getting Special Needs, Special Spirit off the ground after her son, Peter Jr., was born with Down Syndrome.
“When Peter came along, we didn’t have anything like this in Columbus, and that was my first motivation,” Jones said in a 2019 interview with The Dispatch. “I just wanted him to have friends. I wanted him to be included in society — and in helping him, it helps everybody.”
Throughout the year, the nonprofit organizes events such as a bowling league and family fun days at Lake Lowndes State Park or Dewayne Hayes Campground for those with special needs. Goals are activity, socialization, education and support. Day camp was added in 2015.
Rice Glover noted how important it is to have activities for disabled people. For example, when the organization started the bowling league in 2004, the event was chaotic. Participants don’t recognize their name on the scoreboard, what to do or know how to play the game.
“Eventually, they started recognizing their name and how the game is scored,” Jones said. “They were learning and having a good time.”
Besides offering caregivers a bit of a break, the camp offers participants the opportunity to be with their peers and participate in activities they are sometimes excluded from.
“Stan is just like us,” Rice Glover said, while waving to the group in the pool. “They all just want to be included.”
Special Needs, Special Spirit exists solely through donations and annual memberships. It receives no government funding.
For more information, email Jones at [email protected], or call 662-352-3184.