Vanessa Brown, Boys and Girls Club of Shreveport Executive Director, is one of seven 2021 Maytag Dependable Leader Award (MDLA) recipients. She will receive $20,000 to use towards Boys and Girls Club program efforts in a safe, dependable place that enables young people to achieve their great futures. Brown received this national award because she has projected a reliable, positive impact on youth throughout the Shreveport community.
The MDLA award will be used to create a summer program – “Responding With Connections.”
Brown got the idea for “Responding With Connections” because there’s a big disconnect between Shreveport youth and families and first responders.
“Responding With Connections” is the selected 2021 camp program. The Boys and Girls Club of Shreveport summer camp serves as a supervised environment where youth can develop into successful adults. Summer camp will take place June – July, Monday-Thursday, 10 AM – 3 PM, and is open to ages 6-13. High school-aged kids can come on Fridays and do “Dollar Days” where, for one dollar, they can enjoy all Boys and Girls Club activities, including lunch, snacks, sports, and just having fun.
“When I received the award, I said, ‘I have the best idea!’ I was so happy when they told me. I was like, ‘No way, no!’ because hundreds of people apply, and only seven are selected. I felt honored and blessed. The individuals who mentored me and helped me, I thank them,” Brown shared.
A superhero theme will accompany the “Responding With Connections” program. Brown feels that first responders are the superheroes of our communities. She will use The Avengers and other themes to assist in intriguing kids in learning more about first responders.
“The Avengers is one of the coolest movies I’ve ever seen. I’d like to incorporate some Avenger themes in accordance to which first responder presents and how their job relates to a Marvel hero’s powers,” Brown stated.
“The goal is to be able to establish a connection that enables a positive response. When first responders visit the Boys and Girls Club, they can see young individuals who have a bright future but may have some obstacles against them. In turn, the youth will see the human behind the uniform. I want to establish those connections that will enable us to have a positive connection and a positive future.”
“Responding With Connections” will include field trips to local agencies and scheduled community events. Law enforcement and first responders will see the Boys and Girls Club facilities and meet individuals in the community that they serve outside of their regular job duties. First responder mentorships will also be arranged for students. Paramedics, police officers, and firefighters will be able to visit and mentor community youth and teach them about their daily job duties, introducing possible career fields to community youth.
Law enforcement will also visit four times a week to teach basic survival lessons that may not be taught in school, such as fire safety, what to do when a police officer pulls you over, signs of a stroke, and other essential life skills.
“If the police pull you over or have an interaction with you, what is the tone? How do you stay calm? A lot of our kids get scared immediately. We want them to learn how they can help control the situation. I’ve seen many of my kids in difficult situations, either with their peers or law enforcement. If we could bridge those gaps and make those connections stronger, then I have done my job here,” Brown stated.
“They’re gonna go home and say ‘I just had the best experience with the police,’ and that’s going to spark someone else’s interest like, ‘What?! A good experience with the police?'”
Changing the Conversation
Brown hopes that a structured environment will help to find the disconnect between law enforcement and low-income communities.
“There’s so much violence in the world. Law enforcement does not have a good connection with youth and vice versa. We can start to change that. My goal is when they interact outside of the Boys and Girls Club, there’s already an established connection and not a blind face-to-face meet.”
“I think if the world could understand each other better, there would be less tension and fewer casualties. Youth have to understand, and law enforcement have to understand as well.
Brown has been part of the Boys and Girls Club Movement for five years. She began her journey at the Boys and Girls of Nothern Louisiana, and transferred to Shreveport a few years ago. She briefly participated in her local Boys and Girls Club as a youth but didn’t feel that she received adequate mentorship. She wanted to change that conversation.
“I did not specifically need Boys and Girls Club growing up. I lived in a well-rounded household, but my mom wanted me to interact with my peers. We lived fairly close to my local Boys and Girls Club, so it was no trouble for my mom to drop me off. Kids come to our programs for different reasons. I came for the mentorship,” Brown shared.
“I tell boys and girls that they all come for different reasons. Some come for food, some come for shelter and security, and some come for mentorship. I didn’t receive that at mine, and I told myself I would never want that for the kids that come through our Club. I joined Girl Scouts and eventually turned to sports, which is what I feel saved me.”
“Many children have options for their extracurricular, but a lot of our kids in Shreveport don’t. The Boys and Girls Club fills that gap for them. A lot of our kids want to be musical artists. We are working on incorporating art through literacy to show the importance of literacy in performing.”
Bridging the Gap
The main message of “Responding With Connections” is if we don’t change history, it will repeat itself. This program’s mission is to bridge the gap between low-income youth and law enforcement with the hopes of building a better tomorrow.
“Kids understand American history. They know our history of crimes against Black Americans. We have to figure out how to make the journey of changing this reality impactful to our kids, which involves giving them the tools they need. For example, if they have an issue with someone, how do they use words to explain their views? They should be able to walk away saying, ‘I didn’t physically win as in a fistfight, but I won differently.’ It’s ultimately trying to change that behavior and that culture,” Brown shared.
“Many of our kids have the pressure of siblings looking up to them and helping with their household. Many live in low-income apartments. Food isn’t where it’s supposed to be. This program will also help our kids navigate through that.”
Brown doesn’t want “Responding With Connections” to be a one-time thing. She wants this to be a recurring program that can genuinely positively impact the Shreveport community.
“I’m excited to be able to represent our Boys and Girls Club here in Shreveport, and I’m excited to be able to give our youth this opportunity. This is what a lot of the kids need; Just that door opener. That opportunity that gives them hope for a better tomorrow.”