Bob Holeman, Rotarian of the Day on Wednesday, January 26, 2022, introduced summer camp as the topic of the day at the weekly Rotary Club meeting. Rotary International District 6190 holds an annual summer camp called RYLA, Rotary Youth Leadership Awards Camp, each summer, and all Rotarians are familiar with RYLA camp. Indeed, the local club sends multiple youth to District 6190’s RYLA camp held at the United Methodist Children’s Home OWL (Outdoor Wilderness Learning) Center out from Dubach, Louisiana every summer.
The speaker invited to share with Rotary at the most recent meeting also spoke about summer camp, but of a camp with a different focus—Friendship Baptist Encampment, with an emphasis on telling its campers about Jesus! Beverly Taylor, a retired teacher and current boutique owner in the Pea Patch Gallery in downtown Winnfield, is the Director of Friendship Baptist Camp located in Bienville Parish, Louisiana on Highway 4.
Mrs. Taylor explained that the camp is located on the grounds of the old Friendship School, which was closed in the late 1950’s. In 1960, a group of churches in the North Central Louisiana Baptist Association got together and purchased the abandoned school property, which consisted of a classroom building and a gymnasium, and opened a summer camp for children from the parishes of Winn, Jackson and Bienville.
Her association with the camp began in 1970 when she went as a camper, Beverly said, and she attended camp at Friendship all throughout her school years. She then became a camp counselor, later advanced to director of the week-long girls’ camp, which she continued for 20 years, became a member of the Board of Directors, and eventually director of the entire Friendship Baptist Encampment. So she has been involved in Friendship Camp in every way possible, from washing dishes in the early years when no dishwasher was available and the campers had to wash the dishes to heading the Board which makes the decisions and keeps the camp going.
The classroom building was converted to the dormitory and the gymnasium served as the central building for gathering, eating, playing and everything else. Over the years, changes were made, a swimming pool was added the gym was pulled down and replaced with a cafeteria and a chapel. A pavilion has been added, and a recent donation of another building allowed the expansion of dormitory space.
Over the years since 1960, a long line of volunteers has dedicated a great deal of money and time for years and years to Friendship Camp. Three such persons, Robert Leach, Rev. Ray Teal, and Scriven Pinckard (one of the founders of the camp) were recently recognized for their devotion to Friendship with dedication of buildings in their honor.
The mission of Friendship Baptist Encampment is the help children grow in spirit, grow physically and learn new skills. Each July, a one-week girls’ camp, a one-week boys’ camp and a one-week youth camp are held. Children from 8 to 18 may attend, and at age 16, children may become junior counselors. At age 18, they may be counselors.
Camp activities include Bible study, singing and worship services. The children also swim, do crafts, play sports (lots of water sports), and learn all kinds of skills, including bb gun skills, American Sign Language, building, particularly of derby cars for races. Missionaries visit and talk to campers, as well as members of the group known as The Gideons, which spreads the word of God by distributing free Bibles. Special projects, such as Operation Christmas Child, are also provided for the children. The youth camp is co-ed and music is a special focus for the teenagers, so there is usually one or more music groups for that period of the camping year. The ratio of staff to children is about one counselor per 10 children.
In more recent years, mandatory training in guarding children against potential abuse has been added to staff requirements.
Mrs. Taylor says the huge benefits of going to summer camp at Friendship are learning about Jesus, development of leadership skills for some children, and life-long friendships with fellow campers.
The cost of camp at Friendship is modest, so that many children can afford to attend. It is currently $125 per week (Monday through Thursday), and individuals or church congregations may certainly sponsor a child’s week at camp by offering to pay the fees for children who don’t have the extra money in their family’s budget. There is always a way to ensure that any child who wishes to go to summer camp at Friendship Baptist Camp may attend.