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Two Gadsden County organizations benefit from the volunteerism of Christian Spring Breakers from Iowa

Two Gadsden County organizations — HLC Leadership Academy in Havana and Shade Tree Success Center in Gretna — have benefitted the past few years from the volunteer efforts of Lake View Camp, a Christian camp in Pella, Iowa.

he mission of Lake View Camp is “to provide a broken world with environments where lives encounter God’s love and are being transformed by the hope that Christ gives.”

Lake View Camp has been doing Spring Break Mission Trips and other disaster-related trips since 2003.

The camp did hurricane relief in New Orleans and surrounding areas after Katrina and Rita. T

hey have done both gutting of homes and rebuilding of homes.

They also have helped with clean-up and reconstruction after tornadoes in Flat Rock, Alabama, and Joplin, Missouri.

And they have built homes for needy families in south Texas, as well as doing clean-up and reconstruction for families in southern Missouri after severe flooding there.

In 2016 while looking for some projects in the Florida area related to hurricane relief, Lake View Camp Executive Director Diana Brummel came across Destiny Tolbert, who was working to create a community center in Gretna and building a program to work with kids and families in Gretna.

“We felt God calling us there,” Brummel said. “It has been a great partnership in ministry. We are so impressed with the ministry Destiny is doing with the Shade Tree Group and consider ourselves blessed that God has connected us with the ministry she is doing in Gretna and the surrounding communities.”

Lake View Camp remodeled an old cinder-block building for Shade Tree in 2016 to use as the Shade Tree Success Center and cleared lots of wooded area around the center.

They also increased the size of the community garden Tolbert oversees with the Shade Tree kids, and built them a chicken coop.

They also held a community Easter Egg hunt and picnic.

“Lake View Camp was one of a few groups that helped us get our program off the ground,” Tolbert said. “Their help was invaluable. Now, we just need more people from our community to volunteer to work with the kids.”

In 2017, Lake View Camp came back to Gretna and built a covered pavilion and outdoor kitchen so they could hold larger events.

They also prepared ground for a basketball court, did more work in the garden, and organized a Day Camp for the after-school kids at the Centenary Methodist Camp of Quincy (This is also where the group from Iowa stays during their visits).

This year, Brummel said the Lake View Camp kids really wanted to do hurricane relief, but couldn’t find any projects.

“Destiny wanted us to come back so badly, and so we did,” Brummel said. “We thought we would have a small group and had our largest group ever to Florida, 75 people total! The amazing thing is that these kids paid to come and serve God! They could have spent it on the beach, or playing games on their electronic devices, but they came to serve.”

This year in Gretna, on last week’s Spring Break Mission Trip, Lake View Camp had a Day Camp for Shade Tree kids at Centenary Camp; built an outdoor bathroom for the Shade Tree Success Center; painted their basketball court; cleaned up the garden for the spring season; partnered with the City of Gretna to give a face lift to one of their buildings with a repaired roof; cleaned up that building on the inside; and painted that building and its sign and cleaned up the surrounding property.

However, this Spring Break Lake View Camp wasn’t just limited to helping in the western part of Gadsden County.

“We knew God had something in store for us since our group was so large we didn’t have enough projects to keep them busy,” Brummel said. “We were open to where God would lead us.”

Brummel said that God led the group this year to Lillian Johnson and the HLC (Havana Learning Center) Leadership Academy.

Johnson is the director of the Christian academy, which is now leasing space at 112 East 9th Avenue in downtown Havana.

Johnson is now hoping to build a school on her own property on Kemp Road in eastern Havana.

Some volunteers from Lake View Camp were able to help work on the project this Spring Break visit and Brummel has committed to coming back to help the HLC Leadership Academy rise up in its new location.

“Our only regret is that we did not know about the ministry and work that Lillian is doing sooner,” Brummel said. “What an amazing women with a heart for the hurting children of Havana. She knows that education is the key to success and she is following God’s lead.”

“She is using her retirement money to build this school, and giving of her property to put it on, all while taking care of her husband who has cancer,” Brummel continued.”

Last Wednesday, Lake View Camp brought a group of eight people to see what the project was and did some small projects for the school.

On Thursday, Lake View Camp sent a group of 20 in addition to the other projects in Gretna it was working on.

“Our group worked on the roof, did clean up and repaired a fence row, worked on the back deck, put hurricane braces up, and helped with electrical wiring,” Brummel said. “We wish we could have had a couple of more days with Lillian and the school project and are going to be looking at opportunities to come back. The community of Havana is fortunate to have someone like Lillian and those who work with her to reach kids who struggle at school — and those who invest in them.”

Johnson was so grateful for the work done by the volunteers from Lake View Camp. “God sent angels to help with our school project and HLC Leadership Academy wants to humbly thank Joe and Diana Brummel, Pastor Manual Guerra and their work brigade for all the endless support and hard work they gave us,” Johnson said. “I want to give thanks to God for being the boss in our project, and bringing this brigade all the way from Pella, Iowa to our community to help. The contributions of everyone involved made me more humbly aware of the human capacity for love, generosity and compassion.”

“We thank those from Lake View Camp for their courage and conviction — for leaving behind all that is familiar and comfortable to serve others,” Johnson said. “We thank them for their awareness for seeing the need and responding, and thank them for sharing their skills and knowledge to help improve the lives of our students.”

Johnson pointed out that the great poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “The purpose of life is not to be happy; it is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make a difference that you have lived and lived well.”

“Our family at HLC Leadership Academy has become bigger and better through the grace of God, family and friendship for a lifetime. Thank you to our new-found family; we look forward to working with you again soon.”

To contact HLC Leadership Academy to offer help with building the new school, email or call (850) 539-1315.

To contact Shade Tree Success Center, visit or call Tolbert at (850) 459-5149.

To contact Brummel about a different project for Lake View Camp in Gadsden County, email or call her at (641) 780-3031.

By Randall Lieberman