By Julie Langley

uvenile arthritis is one of the most common childhood diseases, affecting 1 in 1000 children in the United States. Camp Jambalaya Jubilee, now in its 32nd year, offers hope for families navigating the challenges of juvenile arthritis and other autoimmune diseases. The camp was founded by local rheumatologist Dr. Thomas Pressly and his wife Tracy, who envisioned a space where families affected by arthritis could come together to find fun, education, and support.

Sheri Rowell, the camp’s executive director for nine years, explained that Camp Jambalaya Jubilee is not only a bonding time for the children and their siblings who are attending, but also for parents to connect with other parents affected by the disease. “It is a joy to see kids running with a new friend and parents being given free information and education about the disease while making new friendships that will last forever,” Rowell said.

Open to children ages 2 to 18, approximately 50 families come from Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama each year to participate in Camp Jambalaya Jubilee. The cost is $10 per child and $20 per adult for the entire weekend of events. Families stay in dorm suites and eat on campus, and all activities are provided free of charge, thanks to donations.

“The purpose of having the parents attend is giving them an opportunity to sit in on sessions with doctors because there are not a lot of pediatric rheumatologists in the United States,” Rowell said, adding that five to seven rheumatologists attend camp yearly. The parents are put into groups and assigned a doctor based on their child’s specific needs. “They may sit down with doctors who specialize in areas where their children have issues and have the same needs. It also gives our parents an opportunity to have a one-on-one conversation with a doctor and having that doctor at your disposal is a treasure.”

The itinerary includes panel discussions with rheumatologists and question-and-answer sessions with specialists in the fields of orthopedic surgery, physical therapy, dermatology, and dentistry. In addition, parents are able to sit down and talk to family therapists and counselors about medical issues their child has been facing. While parents are in sessions with doctors, the children participate in on-campus and off-campus activities, including bowling, a carnival, and fun at Sci-Port Discovery Center.

With the goals of education, encouragement, and enjoyment, the camp offers families and children struggling with arthritis hope for their future. “Although the 48 hours that parents and students are together doesn’t seem like a lot, it is packed with lots of things to do and they come away with new tools to use in their day-to-day living,” Rowell said.

“The camp gives parents a whole new group of friends to talk to about their children’s special needs and compare notes, so by the end of camp, they have found a new group of friends,” Rowell said. “The best part is watching families build relationships with other families and gather each year to talk to these people because they understand the same language.”


Camp Jambalaya Jubilee is made possible by fundraisers throughout the year, including the Give For Good fundraiser. For more information about the camp or how you can donate, please visit

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