Camphor Memorial UMC ‘Cooks Up’ a Cultural Gumbo for Community Children

December 12, 2015
The community of Scotlandville is situated between the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport and Southern University. Camphor Memorial United Methodist is located in this area, where many of the residents are underserved. 

With funding for enrichment programs having been cut from many public schools, and knowing that area families were financially hard pressed to provide them on their  own, Camphor Memorial UMC created two programs targeting area children—“Village of Hope” and “Gumbo of Art, Music and Culture.” “Village of Hope” reached out to young children ages five to nine, providing them with academic enhancement through homework assistance and cultural enrichment. Through field trips and interactive workshops, the “Gumbo of Art, Music and Culture” program invited older children ages six to 11 to experience the cultural richness of the Scotlandville community while learning more about history, art, entrepreneurship and financial literacy.

The programs were community-based events with local artists, poets, musicians and businesses sharing knowledge and providing hands-on experiences for the participants. “The children explored their culture while learning to express themselves, all the while building their self-esteem,” said Rose White, program organizer and member of Camphor Memorial UMC.

Southern University, as part of its centennial celebration on the Baton Rouge campus last fall, hosted one of the largest exhibitions of art from historically black colleges and universities from around the country. Not only did the children in the “Gumbo” program take a field trip to the exhibit, they enjoyed visits to  the Odell S. Williams “Here and Now” Museum of African-American History and the Capitol Park Museum.

Local artists Randell Henry, an art professor from Southern University, and Ronald Kennedy, a retired art professor from SLU, led a workshop on sketching, collages and printmaking.

An event focusing on entrepreneurship was held for the children at the Louisiana Small Business Development Center on Southern University’s campus.  Representatives of  the Scotlandville business community led sessions on financial literacy, goal-setting, charitable giving and overcoming obstacles. Participants heard stories of successful business starts by other children through “Awesome Kidpreneurs” workbooks, which they completed during the program.

The mother of one of the participants said, “Donna has been so excited about the entrepreneurship program. Learning about kids who own businesses, the importance of goal-setting and saving money impacted Donna’s understanding of finance in a real way. She no longer spends all of her money on candy and toys. Donna’s goal is to take the .50 cents she received in the workshop and open her own bank account!”

Poet Dorothy Davis led a workshop on creating poetry, encouraging participants to explore their thoughts and to use writing to express their feelings.

Connie Lee, a local musician, led a drumming workshop that taught rhythms and reading music. The drumming was paired to jazz, pop and various types of music as a performance.

At the end of the 13-week program, an exhibit of the art and other works created by the children was held at the Scotlandville Public Library. An opening reception included participants reading their creative writings and performing music. Upon entering the exhibit and seeing the program for the opening reception, one of the young participants exclaimed, “Wow! We’re going to be famous!”

“Rose White is to be commended for her vision of this program that introduced inner-city children to the areas of art, music and culture. The presenters were outstanding, giving of their gifts and talents to children who may not have normally been afforded the opportunity to participate in such a fine program. As a member of the planning committee, I was excited to see this ‘mission in action,’” said Kathleen Conrad, wife of Rev. Clifton Conrad, Camphor’s pastor.

Organizers believe that the “Village” and “Gumbo” programs have allowed Camphor Memorial UMC to form a “circle of success,” creating new connections within the Scotlandville community. “Local businesses that helped us promote the programs now view Camphor Memorial as an active and vital leader in the community as opposed to just another church. The entrepreneurship workshop was the first time the Business Development Center targeted children in this age group, and they would like us to continue the effort. The Scotlandville Library is now providing poetry workshops for children,” said White.

Camphor Memorial UMC’s ministry to the children of Scotlandville reflects the “vision and preferred future” of the Louisiana Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church by “reaching out and drawing people in.”  “In addition to receiving support from the local business and academic communities, reaching out to churches of different denominations and to schools within the Scotlandville community allowed us to demonstrate our denomination’s motto of ‘Open Minds, Open Hearts, Open Doors,’” said White.

As with all ministry, those working to “make it happen” benefit as significantly as do the recipients of their efforts. “These programs were truly a church-wide effort. People in the congregation served as tutors, chaperones, workshop helpers and in so many other ways. They gave financial gifts to cover expenses and to provide breakfast and lunch for the children on each Saturday that they gathered. Our members established connections with the children as well as their parents and guardians,” said Rev. Conrad, who added that funding for the ministry was also provided through a conference-sponsored Fresh Expressions grant.

Rose White believes that the “Village” and “Gumbo” programs are a living embodiment of Proverbs 22:6. “We are training up children in a God-centered environment, providing new venues of expressions and avenues of learning. We are tapping into the creativity and spirit of each child, fostering the early sparks that can uncover God-given talents, dreams and desires.”

Rev. Conrad added, “By expanding Camphor Memorial’s circle of influence to include local leaders and subject matter experts, the children and their parents and guardians have more resources available to them to help each child become the person God created them to be.”
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