June 10, 2010 9:30:00 AM
Summer in Mississippi typically brings people together.
For one week every year, kids make new friends and reconnect with others at Camp Rising Sun next to the Tombigbee River.
The camp gives children in Mississippi who have been or who are being treated for cancer an opportunity to participate in a traditional summer camp and activities like swimming, rock wall climbing, canoeing, jet skiing, arts and crafts, karate, riflery, and many others.
Riding jet skis or horses can be the toughest decision a camper has to make on a given day. Every year, new activities are added to the itinerary.
Rick Stansbury is a staple, though.
For 12 years, the Mississippi State men''s basketball coach has ventured to southern Lowndes County to provide smiles and to spend time with the children.
On Wednesday, Stansbury returned to Camp Rising Sun and reconnected with the campers. He admits playing and talking about basketball and giving out a few balls, handing out T-shirts, and spending several hours with the campers isn''t much compared to what the kids deal with every day, or even the fun they''ll have during the remainder of the camp.
"I can promise you, every time we come out we get a lot more out of it than what we give," Stansbury said. "I heard one kid I remembered for a long time is not back with us this year, and just to hear the story of what took place with that was touching.
"There''s kids you see here who are doing well from it. And again, having three little boys myself, it makes you realize just how blessed we are."
For 8-year-old camper Andrew Hall, Stansbury''s arrival might have been the best part of the week.
The Shannon native is a MSU fan, and he immediately put on his shirt and ball cap and took some jumpers.
"My sister doesn''t like State, she''s likes Ole Miss," Hall said while adjusting the fit of his cap. "But I don''t care, I like MSU."
As Hall left his chat with Stansbury, he passed counselor Jarome Kirkland, whom he has more in common with than he might realize.
Kirkland, a MSU graduate, has volunteered at Camp Rising Sun for more than 15 years.
He remembers what it''s like to be a camper, having overcome cancer since spending his first week at Camp Rising Sun in 1987.
"It''s a little bit different from some of the other volunteers," Kirkland said. "I think that''s why at times I feel like I have more fun than the kids. There''s a deeper connection when you''ve experienced what they have.
"Kids with cancer can have a hard time at school, and this is a chance to come out, kick back, have fun, and love each other."
As a MSU graduate and annual volunteer, Kirkland can relate with Stansbury on building relationships with campers and renewing them each year.
It''s no different with the Lions Club members grilling dinner or anyone else who helps with the camp; the links add to the chain. Everyone has life put into perspective, escaping anything petty or irrelevant to what really matters.
"It''s great to see smiles when you walk in," Stansbury said. "If ever I did think or forget how fortunate and how blessed we are, this for sure makes you come back to reality. All of us."