How Extra Special People Is Transforming Lives

Jackson Cummiskey
3 min readAug 16, 2023
Jackson Cummiskey studies finance in Athens, GA

Extra Special People (ESP) is a Georgia-based nonprofit organization founded in 1986 by Martha Wyllie. After noticing that people with disabilities were not receiving the same opportunities as their peers, Ms. Wyllie launched ESP as a one-week summer camp, bringing together 21 participants of all abilities.

Today, ESP offers a six-week day camp and a two-week residential camp. Each summer, it brings together more than 500 participants from over 25 counties in Georgia. Participants get a rare chance to live in a traditional camp setting, build relationships, and have fun.

ESP welcomes people diagnosed with autism, traumatic brain injury, spina bifida, and cerebral palsy, among many other conditions. Summer camp participants participate in various activities, including arts and crafts, swimming, cooking, and dancing.

With various labor-intensive to take participants through, such as retreats, family support, counseling, dinners, and holiday events, ESP welcomes volunteers from all walks of life. Middle-school-aged volunteers work with their peers with disabilities as friends during camp and various programs.

ESP also runs three year-round programs: Java Joy, 360, and Hooray. It recognizes that persons with disabilities needn’t wait until summer to receive the opportunities accessible to their peers all all-year around. So it started 360, which runs throughout the year and comprises various family programs.

In the spirit of inclusivity, 360 welcomes the participation of persons of all abilities, ages, and economic backgrounds. Most of the 360 programs run through the fall and spring. Some, like ESP Miracle League, take place over eight weeks of summer.

Some activities, such as the afternoon enrichment programs, take place daily. Others, like dinners, are monthly. Dance parties, basketball games, and corn maze visits are slotted for the weekends and special events.

ESP’s daily afternoon programs allow participants to learn and master various skills, including yoga, cooking, and swimming. Classes are offered on and off campus to ensure inclusivity and are designed to accommodate each learner’s unique needs.

With Java Joy, ESP also seeks to allow adults of all abilities to participate in gainful employment. Java Joy (which started in 2016 as Bouncin’ Bean, a summer camp coffee service) is now a mobile coffee enterprise delighting the Athens business community with its coffee. ESP strives to make Java Joy the leading employer of persons with disabilities.

ESP partnered with Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia to develop Hooray, a one-of-its-kind camp for kids of all abilities. Hooray sits on a 90-acre camp and is accessible to the public for respite weekends and overnight camps. ESP’s goal is for Hooray to one day be Georgia’s go-to spot for families of all backgrounds and abilities.

To get involved with ESP, you can volunteer all year round, during weekends, or for special events. There are also internship opportunities for people who want to get their start in counseling. If you’re out of state and would love to help, consider joining AmeriCorps, which brings together more than 75,000 volunteers to help communities nationwide. You can also help ESP further its cause through donations.

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Jackson Cummiskey
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Jackson Cummiskey is a finance student at the University of Georgia in Athens. He began the bachelor of business administration.