Gulfport police summer camp takes aim at turning teens into lead - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Gulfport police summer camp takes aim at turning teens into leaders

The eight-week program puts teens in a military-style environment where they learn about teamwork, leadership and life skills. (Photo source: WLOX) The eight-week program puts teens in a military-style environment where they learn about teamwork, leadership and life skills. (Photo source: WLOX)
The camp runs daily until the end of July. (Photo source: WLOX) The camp runs daily until the end of July. (Photo source: WLOX)
For the first time in 15 years, the camp is being solely operated by the Gulfport Police Department. (Photo source: WLOX) For the first time in 15 years, the camp is being solely operated by the Gulfport Police Department. (Photo source: WLOX)
GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) -

Summer camps usually mean arts and crafts and fun in the sun. At one summer camp in Gulfport, drills and discipline are part of the daily routine. The program opened this week with a goal of turning teens into leaders.

It looked like basic boot camp in the gym at Bayou View Middle School on Tuesday morning. This summer, 51 teens, ages 13 to 17, are learning about drills and expectations. Some didn't come on their own to the Leadership Summer Camp.

"My mom made me come here. She thinks I need something to do for the summer," said 17-year-old John Jenkins.

The military-style training program teaches teens life skills, communication, teamwork and discipline.

"There's some yelling, some screaming. If you got a soft heart, this is probably not the place for you," said camp facilitator James Griffin.

"I learned if you mess up, you do pushups. That's what I learned," said John.

"At first it was terrifying. I thought it was going to be like screaming, right here in your face every day, but it's not. They tell you stories. They tell you lessons. They open your mind up to things, and it's amazing," said 15-year-old Eternity Scott.

The leadership camp started more than 15 years ago under the Gang Resistance Education and Training Program. This year, the camp is being operated by the Gulfport Police Department. Instead of certified instructors, four Gulfport police officers are serving as teachers.

"They're serving us, and they're teaching us, and they're showing us there are better ways to do things, to be better in the community. It's good. They're fun. I like them a lot," said John.

"I get to show myself as a leader. I get to work around police officers. I get field trips, a lot of other things," said Eternity.

"There's a lot of military structure that goes on here. We do a lot of yelling. There's some PT, pushups, sit-ups, things of that nature. For the most part, we embrace them as well. With punishment comes rewards, and they appreciate that," said Griffin.

They learn to work and play together. The free, eight-week camp has already inspired some teens to join the JROTC or Police Explorers program.

"You may not necessarily become a leader, but you know what, you become a pretty good follower. So, it's all positive," said Griffin.

The camp runs from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. It ends July 31, with a graduation ceremony.

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