BELIEVE Camp celebrates its 10-year anniversary in Bogalusa
Published 11:20 am Thursday, July 6, 2023
The BELIEVE Summer Camp Experience, a performing arts summer camp, founded in 2014 by Southeastern Louisiana native and Bogalusa High School graduate Bruce Sampson, is celebrating its 10-year anniversary by honoring the last nine years of the program.
Sampson has been involved in the performing arts for most of his life. He has opened for acts such as Maynard Ferguson and Kool and The Gang, started his own entertainment company which produced shows at Disneyland, co-wrote and produced over 20 original shows for Tibbies Music Hall, an award-winning dinner theater in Newport Beach, CA, and has traveled the world with The Young Americans International Music Outreach Tours spreading knowledge about the performing arts to young people and adults alike.
Upon returning to Washington Parish after touring the world with The Young Americans, Sampson found that the area did not have the strong performing arts programs he had remembered.
“When I talked to young people, most didn’t have any real hope for the future. Everyone kept saying that their biggest dream was just to leave Bogalusa,” Sampson said. “I thought, how sad is that, because my entire life, no matter where I’ve gone, I’ve always known this is home.”
Sampson decided he needed to do something to uplift the youth and community of Bogalusa.
“I thought, I traveled the world using the arts to impact lives and communities and schools and young people, and I can’t keep doing this and not go back to my own backyard and do something,” Sampson said.
In 2014, Sampson recruited some talented young professionals from Los Angeles and New York City that shared the same vision as he did.
“I wanted to do a one-time event that would inspire the youth using the arts and hopefully, through that, inspire the community,” Sampson said.
The idea was to lead a 5-day, themed camp and show that would help the campers to believe in themselves and each other. After trial runs of the camp in California and Slidell, the camp was hosted in Bogalusa, and Sampson and his team knew they had something special on their hands before the week was over.
“It kind of just organically grew, where people were starting to come from other areas and
bringing their kids and then inviting us to their areas later,” Sampson said. “We ended up going to a number of different places all over Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida, in addition to the camps we’ve done in California and in China.”
Soon after BELIEVE launched in the summer of 2014, the team initiated a series of projects with students and educators in China in partnership with American Educators International. Despite any language barriers, Sampson saw that the BELIEVE program did what it set out to do on a larger scale than anyone could have imagined.
“I think we did something here. I think we found something that people need, and we tapped into it,” Sampson said. According to Sampson, BELIEVE accepts everybody regardless of experience level. The BELIEVE camp teaches three different age groups; elementary school, middle school and high school, how to sing, dance and act, with the five-day program ending in a live performance open to the community.
Rather than the sink-or-swim mentality many performing arts programs implement, the BELIEVE experience strives to show its campers that they can do things they didn’t even know they could do, using positive reinforcement.
“They all walk in with built-in limitations in their head, of ‘I’m not a dancer’ or ‘I’m not a singer,’ whatever it is,” Sampson said. “We set the bar high, but we don’t even let them know that there is a bar. We just kind of go for it.”
This year, the show that the campers will be learning is an homage to the last nine years of BELIEVE.
“We asked the kids who had been around and sent emails out asking, ‘what were your favorite moments? What were your favorite numbers that we did?’” Sampson said. “From that, we put together the show for this year. So this year is kind of a snippet of each of the nine years preceding.”
On top of the special theme of this year’s show, BELIEVE will also be hosting a BELIEVE Fest prior to the start of the show on Saturday, July 8, starting at 5 p.m. until 6:30 p.m. when doors open. BELIEVE Fest will feature tables and booths from community organizations, food vendors and a chance for the community to come together.
Sampson also encourages BELIEVE alumni, regardless of age, to come to the show and join this year’s campers on stage for the last two numbers of the show.
BELIEVE Fest and the following show will be held at Bogalusa High School. For more information, visit http://believecamp.com/.
“What I really want people to know is anything is possible,” Sampson said. “We can solve a lot of our problems starting with something as simple as this.”