Interviewed by Leslie Criss | Photographed by Anthony Mitchell
Husband-and-wife Anthony and Tesha Mitchell are staunch believers in helping others and giving back. One of their biggest community projects is the Eric Matthews Foundation Youth Football Camp that takes place every summer in Tupelo.
Q: Tell us about the football camp.
Anthony: The camps are free, non-contact skills development clinics for anyone who wants to participate from age 8 to 18, though I’ve had some as young as 6 come. And not just young men — girls are welcome too. Moms and dads come and help as well. The focus is for the entire family. And professional football players are on hand to teach the camp, and there is usually one-on-one time for some mentoring by the players with the kids. In earlier camps, we might have 30 kids. In June this year, we did our seventh camp, and it was the biggest yet. We had 80-plus kids and about 150 people. We’ve had kids and volunteers at the camps from Memphis and from Pontotoc, Corinth, Houston, even Columbia, Mississippi. Honestly, since the beginning, it’s been a labor of love.
Tesha: The camps offer a time for different communities of people to come together — kids with no opportunities and kids with many opportunities. Kids of every ethnicity. To me, that’s the biggest thing: The camps break down walls and racial barriers. We are all about that.
Q: Your family returned to Tupelo in 2014, after living away. You wasted no time in becoming involved in the community. Tell us about the Back-to-School Summer Bash that started that same year.
Tesha: When we moved to Tupelo, we saw there was a need for many children for things they needed for school, including backpacks. As youth pastors at our church, we both wanted to put our hands in the community and give back. Our first Summer Bash at Lee Acres was packed, probably about 250 to 300.
Anthony: We asked local businesses to help us fill the backpacks with school supplies, and the event just sort of took off. People from other states, like Texas and Missouri, donated school supplies, as did our church, The Skies the Limit Ministries. After the first year, we had speakers join the event. Some police officers, aldermen and some professional athletes came and spoke with the kids.
Q: How did Summer Bash lead to you organizing the Eric Matthews Foundation Youth Football Camp?
Anthony: In 2016, the day after the Summer Bash, I was asked to share about it in church. After church, I was approached by a woman who happened to be the cousin of professional football player Eric Matthews who had played for the Green Bay Packers. She talked to me about Eric’s Youth and Moms’ Football Camps in Florida and Georgia and said he wanted to do something in Mississippi. She took my number, and I honestly didn’t think he would call, but Eric called. That was the beginning of the camp coming to Mississippi.