WALKER — Mary Johnson is helping youngsters stay off the streets this summer by providing lessons about self-esteem, God and bullying.
Johnson, of Walker, and several volunteers hosted Camp Outreach, a two-week camp in June aimed at helping youngsters grow spiritually and emotionally. The camp began in 1991, and its popularity is growing.
About 70 youth — one of the biggest groups since the camp’s inception — packed Club Outreach on Sunset Boulevard on June 18 and played games, colored and listened to community leaders talk about the importance of loving and respecting themselves.
John Vann, 9, of Walker, took a break from the day’s activities to eat a hot meal and said since starting the camp, he’s “learned about God and Jesus and how he helps people solve their problems.”
Vann said he’s happy at camp because it gives him something to do other than staying at home playing video games.
“I like this better,” Vann said.
Jordan Pittman, of Baton Rouge, said she’s learned about Moses.
“God gave him the 10 commandments,” the 9-year-old said.
Johnson said the goal of the camp — which also provides meals, crafts and other art activities, games and outside recreation — is to teach children the importance of prayer, good citizenship and the perils of bullying.
Each day, the youngsters begin their day with a prayer followed by lessons from members of the community, such as representatives from the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office, the Walker Police Department and the local fire department.
“Our mission is to equip them to be good citizens and have a good attitude,” Johnson said.
Many of the campers are at-risk or come from underprivileged homes and some have no mentor in the home, Johnson said.
Her goal is to make sure each child aims to be “the best person they can be.”
“You can pull yourself out of whatever society has injected into you,” Johnson said. “God loves them regardless of what gender or color they are.”
The camp has helped boost Ralyn Johnson’s self confidence, she said. “I’m awesome,” Ralyn said as she recalled the words of one of the week’s many speakers, who also told the children not to bully other children.
Ministers like Harris Reams Jr., of Osceola Church of God and Christ in Walker, remain during camp hours, which are 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., to talk with the children and help maintain order.
“I want to give back to the community that’s been good to me, that helped raise me,” Reams said.
“These are the kids in the neighborhood,” said pastor Sterling Perkins, of Unity Church of God and Christ in Walker. “We’re trying to develop good character.”
While the families are asked to pay $40 for each child attending the camp, Johnson has accepted children whose families are not able to pay. She said the camp is funded through donations from the community.
“We’re not turning anyone down,” Johnson said. “This gives them a place to go.”
On Friday, the campers will celebrate their last day at camp with a field trip to Fontainebleau State Park in Mandeville.
Following the camp, Club Outreach will provide free breakfast and lunch to youths through the end of July. The food and nutrition program, Johnson said, is paid for by the state.