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Camp Koinonia offers classroom camp experience for 500+ special education students

When the pandemic forced an overnight camp for kids with special needs to cancel for the second year in a row, organizers came up with an alternative.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Camp Koinonia offers a week of canoeing, horseback riding and outdoor activities that kids with special needs look forward to every year. 

"You know, it gives my son an opportunity to do something that all kids should have an opportunity to do," said Lindsey Willis, the mother of one camper.

After being forced to cancel last year due to the pandemic, Executive Director Jacqui Pearl said they immediately began brainstorming ways to bring the camp experience to kids since they couldn't come to them in the traditional sense.

They put together hundreds of kits to give to Special Education teachers of more than 500 students in three counties so that they could give the camp experience in the classroom. 

"We're providing the content and the activities, as well as every single piece of supplies that they would need to complete those activities. So, we're taking some of the burdens off of the teachers.  From a student's perspective, I hope they go home and tell Mom and Dad, how much fun they had at camp in school," Pearl said. 

Pearl hopes they can once again host campers in the fall, but they're grateful to at least offer some consolation 

Willis said the return to camp will be a happy reunion for campers who haven't seen each other in nearly two years.

"You are just going to see these kids light up. They're going to be so excited," Willis said. 

Camp Koinonia, in partnership with the University of Tennessee, hosts several residential camps throughout the year for people with disabilities.