This Harrisburg couple is working to increase access to opportunity — one child at a time | Anwar Curtis

Steve Johnson (center) and his wife, Carla (right) are the co-founders of Camp S.W.A.G., a program for Harrisburg youth (Photo courtesy Steve & Carla Johnson)

Two weeks ago, during a service at Harrisburg Brethren In Christ, Senior Pastor Hank Johnson said something that really stood out for me:

Anwar Curtis (Capital-Star file)

“We are disciples, called to make disciples,” he said, as my mind immediately turned to those who work with youth, both nationwide, and right here in Harrisburg.

A little over a year ago, a post from Carla Johnson, of Harrisburg, hit my Facebook page. And she and her husband, Steve Johnson,  are just the sort of people that Hank Johnson (no relation) was preaching about.

Carla and Steve Johnson are the co-founders of CAMP S.W.A.G., a program that teaches young people such valuable life skills as dealing with bullying; dealing with the good, the bad, and the ugly of social media, and making friends.

Both Johnsons are focused on making families self-sufficient. And both have a passion for introducing young people to experiences that will help them tap into their talents and passions, making them a valuable asset to the village.

Again, disciples called to make disciples.

Over the past year, the Johnsons made a leap of faith and pitched CAMP S.W.A.G.’s curriculum to the school board in Susquehanna Township, just outside Harrisburg. The effort paid off with a partnership with Susquehanna Township Middle School.

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Every Tuesday night, for eight weeks, 30 students who struggle with social or emotional skills participated in their program. The Johnsons told me that they looked forward to watching the students mature before their eyes.

Thanks to the Johnsons’ energetic personalities, the students, who struggle to just be kids, quickly realize how easy it is for them to act their age and enjoy their youth. And even as they face the responsibility of caring for siblings and making themselves understood at home and school, CAMP S.W.A.G’s participants can still embrace being in a safe haven where they can solve problems without being judged.

The Johnsons have also partnered with the Harrisburg NAACP in an entrepreneurship program that provides city youth with exposure to careers in science/STEM, performing arts, humanities, visual arts, business, and the culinary arts.

In this two-phase effort, students in grades six through eight train with mentors and coaches in their chosen fields. They’re required to prepare a business plan and to learn the ins and out of business management, even as they compete for a grand prize of $1,000 awarded for the best presentation.

Phase two is for 9th through 12th graders whose skills in those same subject areas first will be tested in a local competition. Winners move on to a national competition, held at the NAACP’s national convention. This year’s convention is scheduled for July, with Boston as the host city.

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Another meaningful partnership that Steve and Carla have made possible is one with Dr. Eric Waters, the owner of SMART Preschool Learning Center, in Harrisburg’s Kline Plaza.

Every Saturday, the Johnsons hold a Teen Summit workshop that helps students from the Harrisburg public schools develop the life skills they need to grow and flourish.

One neat thing about this workshop is the experiences children are able to create and share with themselves and each other. The Johnsons were able to collaborate, this time with Sherry Phillips who works with youth from Baltimore. Participating students will be partnered with penpals from the Baltimore program. But here’s the catch, the students will eventually meet each other which is really nifty.

To sum it up I am glad Carla and Steve Johnson are disciples creating disciples.

Capital-Star Opinion contributor Anwar Curtis, of Harrisburg, tells the stories of the people of Pennsylvania’s capital city. His columns appear biweekly. Readers may email him at [email protected]