Camp Hidden Lake Is Back In Session!

Bridging the Gap Between Youth and Law Enforcement with Vanessa Brown

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.”

Summer Camp

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.

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. Both community and law enforcement have to understand that.”

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.”

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 the 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.’ This program is 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 and 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.”



Camp Hidden Lake: Backyard Edition

Each summer, with the help of donors in the community, we send kids to our summer camp near Lexington, Mississippi. The Salvation Army’s 300 acre Camp Hidden Lake helps disadvantaged boys and girls in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi open their eyes to a whole new world. Summer camp is much more than a vacation for these kids. Camp Hidden Lake teaches new skills, healthy attitudes, and high values. Long hot summer days, a dip in the pool, canoeing, star-filled nights, campfires, roasted marshmallows, pillow fights, cabin devotions, emblem work, seeing old friends, and making new ones. Expanding horizons and creating memories: That’s what camp is about, and this is what the kids are missing out on during summer 2020.

Camp Hidden Lake was canceled this year due to the novel coronavirus. Since so many of our corps are no longer able to host the Evangelism Campaigns, The Salvation Army Youth Department wanted to find a way to still get Jesus to kids throughout our division. This was done by providing “camp in a bag,” a modified camping experience. Camp Hidden Lake: Backyard Edition is a 3-day resource bag that provides a camping experience for 700 children at home, complete with all the items and directions they need for the daily activities.

Each day followed the following schedule:

  1. Morning Manna (Bible Story with questions)
  2. Daily Camping Experience
  3. Camp Craft
  4. Recreational Activity
  5. Daily Wrap up

This year’s camp theme is “Fearfully & Wonderfully Made,” with the scripture Psalm 139:14 being a focus in the daily “Morning Manna” readings and provided Bible stories. The focus will be on “making and creating” as the youth are encouraged to engage God’s creation and look at their ability to create. Each bag will have three packets for three days of the modified camping experience and a smores kit, complete with instructions on making the camping dessert via microwave. A postcard from Camp Hidden Lake and the Youth Department will be included in each bag as well. This resource will also allow for the children to earn an “Ecology Badge” in character building if they participate. Officers and service center staff are encouraged to use these bags to engage the youth in their localities and think outside the box on evangelism.

“The kids in our division come from all walks of life. You have kids whose parents have an internet connection, but many of our communities don’t have that capability. And even more so, there are still parents who have to work, so teens are home by themselves,” Captain Michael Good stated.

“Helping these kids is our ministry, so we’re trying to figure out how we can help them during this crisis. It also gives officers in our division the opportunity to think outside of the box and meet kids where they are. They get to go to the homes, shelters, and foster homes where these kids reside and give them Camp Hidden Lake,” Captain Good added.

Camp in a bag provides all materials with instructions for a three-day camping experience. Officers are encouraged to check in with the kids to check their progress. The campers learn everything from ecology, boating, camp crafts, and devotions so that this summer feels as close to any other summer at Camp Hidden Lake.


Camp Day #1

Morning Manna: Study of Creation (Genesis 1:1-25)

Camping Experience: Study of trees w/ leaf imprinting & study

Camp Craft: Birdhouse

Recreation: Nature Scavenger Hunt

 Camp Day #2

Morning Manna: Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9)

Camping Experience: Study of a plant’s life cycle w/”Grow Your Own” activity

Camp Craft: Suncatchers

Recreation: Miniature Boating Activity

Camp Day #3

Morning Manna: Study of Creation (Psalm 139:13-18)

Camping Experience: Study of Ecosystem’s w/”Make Your Own Ecosphere” activity

Camp Craft: Leather Bookmark Craft

Recreation: Sidewalk Chalk Games

“I’m excited for the kids to experience the science portion of camp. They’ll practice leaf imprinting. It’s the story of leaves and trees to feel like they’re truly at camp. The second day, the kids get to plant their seeds, and the material talks about the life cycle of a plant and what plants do for us. The last day is my favorite. They will be making an ecosphere. Each kid received a mini mason jar, and they can make an ecosphere. It’s a self-supporting ecosystem, and they won’t have to open the jar to feed the insects or clean it,” Captain Good shared.

One of the things that Captain Good and the Youth Department made sure of was the bags were reusable so that campers could keep them as “camp swag”. The bags are branded with the Camp Hidden Lake logo in hopes of the kids being able to bring them to camp next summer.

“I can imagine them coming to camp next year with their bags. Having camp swag at home is a cool feeling because it’s a sense of belonging and togetherness. Some of these kids come from rough home situations. We get to think about vacationing in New Orleans or Memphis, whereas the kids we serve with The Salvation Army don’t always get that chance. Vacation for them is Camp Hidden Lake. For many of these kids, camp is a week they don’t have to worry about life. It’s a week that they don’t have to worry about food. They don’t have to see their parents fighting. It’s a week where they don’t have to take care of their siblings. They can just be kids,” Captain Good shared.

“That’s one of the most frustrating parts of changes within my job in 2020. The kids don’t get that opportunity. We’re hoping that this backyard edition of the camp hidden lake will allow kids to feel like they are at camp,” Captain Good added.


“I learned forgiveness at camp”

Camp Spotlight: Jonathan Frelix


Jonathan Frelix

Jonathan Frelix is a native of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, a talented musician, and a regular at The Salvation Army’s Camp Hidden Lake. He first attended the main camp three years ago and returned the following two years for the 4-week Music Conservatory camp. Last year he added Ropes Course Instructor to his list of accomplishments, where he made sure campers not only navigated the ropes safely, but also encouraged them and built up their confidence. We caught up with Jonathan for a quick interview about his Camp Hidden Lake experience. Here’s what he had to say.

Q: How did you first come here and why did you come back as a counselor?
I came because, I mean, I don’t have the best home, so this was a great place for me to come to. And I did enjoy the vespers and devotionals. It helps you grow as a person.

Q: What is your favorite part about being a ropes course instructor?
Encouraging kids that are very terrified to do it because they believe that they can’t do it. But after they do it they realize it wasn’t that bad after all. Showing them that fear can’t control your life, it can only control as much as you let it.

Q: What does the future hold for you?
Trying to grow more with music, to be good enough to even start teaching.

Q: What inspires you? What is it about music?
There’s a certain feeling that you can’t explain. It’s kind of like love. It’s not words you can just say, but it’s a great feeling when music flows through and it goes to everyone’s heart.

Q: What can you tell people about what goes on at Camp Hidden Lake?
The primary goal is getting kids closer to God and giving them a safe place to have fun and relax. The people here are great, loving.

Camp Hidden Lake is run entirely by donations and no child ever has to pay for anything during their stay at camp. To give kids like Jonathan the life-changing gift of summer camp, donate here!

Jonathan Frelix