Collin Peterson’s life forever changed during his sister’s graduation at Southern Miss several years ago.
After graduating from Gulfport High in 2011, Peterson planned to attend Mississippi State and major in engineering. During the ceremony, divine intervention led Peterson to take another direction: Attend Southern Miss and become a dentist.
The road eventually led to Peterson founding Kayaking for a Kause, a nonprofit organization focused on improving dental health to young Coast kids who can’t afford medical attention.
“I changed my whole entire plan,” Peterson said. “It was a call from God. The Lord wanted me to use my hands for dentistry. I’ve always been fascinated with the human body. Being a dentist requires art. There’s a lot of visual aspect you can’t learn from a book. I’m an artist. I also draw, sculpt and do woodworking. I have that natural ability.”
On June 11, Kayaking for a Kause teamed up with Gulfport dentist Jason Papania and South Mississippi Smiles to provide $8,000 of dental treatment to three Coast children. They were chosen based on their severity and urgency for treatment. Proceeds came from sponsorships, registration and donations.
The program is going strong and gives Peterson a perfect way to combine his two favorite things: kayaking and dentistry. Peterson was still attending Southern Miss when he founded the program.
“I wanted to find a way to impact my community,” Peterson said. “I have a big heart when I see kids suffering. I want to make an impact on a kid’s life.”
Peterson has made it his mission to end tooth decay, considered the most common chronic disease of children between the ages of 6 and 11.
“These children need a helping hand to save them from the dangers of tooth decay,” Peterson said. “It’s my commitment to make sure each child has the opportunity to have a healthy smile.
Dental disease is something that no child should experience, he said.
“Due to the inability to afford treatment, these children continue to suffer from severe pain while attending school, and their daily routine becomes a challenge by coping with pain, struggling with confidence and the ability to focus, affecting future growth.”
For Peterson, kayaking offers ways to relax and unwind in the coastal waters.
“Kayaking has always been a big stress reliever,” Peterson said. “I’ve done kayaking as long as I can remember. I’m always ready for kayaking and I enjoy it. Kayaking is a great platform for me. What a fun way to help families.”
Peterson, a former captain of the Admirals’ Robotics team, admits the Kayaking for a Kause program doesn’t work without Coast dentists like Papania and sponsorships from other organizations such as South Mississippi Smiles.
“Dr. Papania reached out to me,” Peterson said. “He had several patients who needed treatment. We like working with different dentists across the Coast. Papania and South Mississippi Smiles were both great assets to Kayaking for a Kause.”
Peterson’s journey to becoming a dentist continues this fall at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. The Kayaking for a Kause will continue while he’s in school.
“I’ll have a strenuous schedule at dental school,” Peterson said. “I won’t stop doing Kayaking for a Kause. I have a whole board of members. They will take the reigns. When I get out of dental school, I’ll come back and help the community. Kayaking for a Kause will a big part of that.”
About the series:
Our Kind of People is a feature in the Sun Herald and at SunHerald.com that spotlights South Mississippi people whose life or work is an inspiration to others.