DENHAM SPRINGS -- “Good evening, Camp Empowerment,” Sarah Scott shouted to a group of nearly 40 children seated on the floor of the L.M. Lockhart Center.
“Good evening, Mrs. Scott,” the energetic campers yelled in response.
Every day at Camp Empowerment begins in this way, with a greeting between Scott and her young campers followed by a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance.
After that, campers dive into a plethora of activities, all with a single purpose in mind.
“We’re trying to teach our kids to be good citizens,” Scott said. “We want them to feel empowered.”
Another successful year.
Camp Empowerment, which has brought young children together and kept them off the streets for two weeks every summer since 2009, wrapped up another fun-filled camp with its annual program and awards presentation on Tuesday, June 11.
Since its inception, the purpose of Camp Empowerment has been to “keep kids active and learning during the summer,” Scott said. The camp is sponsored by the West Livingston Advisory Committee (WLAC), which has helped pay for the camp every year it’s been held.
To keep the camp free and open to as many children as possible, the WLAC covers the majority of the costs, with other donations coming from local churches and individuals in the community, Scott said.
It was money well spent.
The young campers consumed their days by learning chants and songs, listening to educational guest speakers from a variety of fields and backgrounds, working on nature-themed artwork, and playing — lots of that.
The camp concluded with a program for parents in which campers — wearing their dark blue Camp Empowerment T-shirts — performed a collection of songs and were handed medals for participating.
It all made for an unforgettable two-week experience — for both the campers and the staff.
Scott, a retired Denham Springs teacher of 50 years who started Camp Empowerment more than a decade ago, told parents it was “one of the best camps we’ve ever had.” What started with eight children the first day grew to as many as 70 some days — which can make for quite the chaotic scene, Scott said.
“Oh, they can get rambunctious,” Scott said with a laugh. “But that’s what kids do.”
Like every year, Scott had much help in the endeavor. A combination of volunteers from local businesses and government agencies, as well as local civic organization/community volunteers, lend several helping hands to the effort.
Guest speakers for Camp Empowerment came from the Livingston Parish Library, the Arts Council of Livingston Parish, local police departments and fire departments, and the Walker High ROTC program. Other speakers included a financial adviser, a nutritionist, and a beekeeper, who had the young campers buzzing when she displayed her gear.
“Who likes honey?” Amanda McMorris asked the children, who responded with loud cries of “me.”
During the camp, local art teachers Kerry Curtin and Dena Olinde guided children as they painted wildlife and plants, made sun-themed paper fans, pieced together paper-plate tambourines and other arts and crafts projects.
“I don’t know how many years I’ve been coming here, but I keep coming back because the kids are just so good,” Curtin said.
This summer was Sandra Brown’s first time volunteering at Camp Empowerment, and she spent her days leading a team of five that prepared breakfast and lunch every day for the young campers.
It didn’t take Brown long to “fall in love” with the program — and more importantly, the children. After two weeks, she’s pretty sure she’ll be back next year.
“I’m so excited because I love children,” Brown said. “You have to love children to do this, but we all do. This is like home now.”
Unlike Brown, this was the third summer camp for Doris Fletcher, whom the campers and staff affectionately referred to as “Momo.” But like Brown, she has nothing but love for Camp Empowerment.
“You can literally feel the love in the air,” Fletcher said. “With everything going on in the community, something like this helps kids stay off the streets and not get into trouble.”
Camp staff said there was hardly a dull moment at Camp Empowerment, and when a reporter asked the campers what they enjoyed most, each had something different to say.
One camper said she liked playing outside and listening to the teachers, while another said he enjoyed the visit from the firefighter in his firefighting gear. A third camper said he had fun making artwork, and a fourth said she loved “the nice lunch ladies.”
While the younger campers spent their time in the activity center, teens were busy in the gymnasium exercising, playing basketball, and seeing who could be the last one standing in games of “Sharks and Minnows.”
After taking a break from a basketball game, 14-year-old Jalyn Esco said she has come to Camp Empowerment for four years. Now, she can't wait for the calendar to turn to summer. She's even got some of her cousins hooked.
“The best thing [about Camp Empowerment] is everybody can come up here,” Esco said. “You can bring your family members and friends with you. The teachers are in there helping us, and they don’t let us say bad things about anybody. They show us to respect one another.
“I’ve been here a lot. We have people to help us, and we love it. We love it here. We love accepting people into our camp and making people feel free. It’s home.”