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Teen boys start camp, church hopes to bring change

By ERICA RODRIGUEZ
July 7, 2010 at 2:07 a.m.

Hannah Thomas, 6, left, sheepishly glances up at her cousin, Makayla Jones, as they try their skills at watercolor painting. Victory Christian Life Center sponsored an Art and Sports Camp for neighborhood children.

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The camp runs until Friday from 10 a.m. to noon.

Registration is on site and free lunch is included.

For more information on the camp or Victory Christian Life Center, contact the church at 361-573-5930, or contact Ada Hooker at ahooker@victoryclc.com.

It started with a dream to build a neighborhood pool near the Victoria Housing Authority complex on East Crestwood Street.

With the help of four teenage boys, what developed was Camp Daybreak, an art and sports camp for neighborhood children.

"This was just something that happened out of nowhere," said Emmitt Jackson, a 16-year-old who helped organize the camp hosted by Victory Christian Life Center.

Jackson, his 13-year-old brother, Marcus Jackson; Tavon Bates, 13; and 15-year-old Dedrick Lacon, wanted a way to help the church raise money to build a pool. They ended up with a free camp that they believe has taught them responsibility and helped the neighborhood.

"There's more people that live here that I don't even know," Bates said. "I learned a lot of people can be friends around here, too."

The three boys first came to the church for their free weekly dinners. In March, the church posted a community meeting notice and offered a $200 fund to help start a neighborhood project. The four boys were the only ones who showed up.

Several meetings later, with the help of camp coordinator Ada Hooker, the idea for the camp became reality.

It's the first time the church hosted a community camp based on ideas from the neighborhood.

"The great part about this camp is it's coming from the neighborhood," said the Rev. Sam Hooker, the church pastor. "Our vision is more to partner with them with what they want to do than to do anything for them."

The 125-member church has been in the neighborhood for about five years. Pastors Sam and Ada Hooker believe the community, one of the lowest-income areas in the city, can create change for itself.

"I truly believe people in this neighborhood can make things happen," Ada Hooker said.

The teen boys show up at the church at 9:30 a.m. and stay after to clean up and hold a small meeting. They believe the experience has taught them responsibility.

"It's like school all over again," Bates said. "Wake up early, go to sleep early."

Every day the camp draws about 25 children from within the neighborhood to play games outdoors and learn formal art techniques from Claire Santellana, an art instructor who trained with local artist Ellie Poirrier.

"I think there's not enough art opportunities in Victoria for children to learn something other than crafts," she said. "They don't get to learn formal art unless they have a little more money, so I think this is a very good thing."

While many of the parents are not yet as involved as the children, Ada Hooker hopes this will change.

"At this point, the kids are engaged," she said. "But where the kids are involved, the parents always follow."

And the idea of a community pool is still not out of the question, she said.

"We believe everybody in this neighborhood holds a key to this being a better place to live," she said.

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