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Those Who Keep Us Safe: Sam Kennedy

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Sam Kennedy with his son, John Young (photo courtesy of Sam Kennedy).

Sam Kennedy wears several hats and badges as both deputy marshal and fire chief for the Village of Delta, Louisiana.

The population of Delta was listed at 239 in the 2010 census. Today, it is quite possibly a couple hundred more. Regardless of the village’s size, the Delta Marshals Office maintains jurisdiction over Interstate 20 from the middle of the Mississippi River Bridge west almost to Mound, Louisiana, which creates plenty of unique situations for the three-person department.

Louisiana has its own system of city marshals who essentially have the same duties as sheriffs.

Kennedy graduated from Tallulah High School in 1998. He spent eight years in the U.S. Army before returning home and entering law enforcement.

He spent three years with the Tallulah Police Department rising to the rank of lieutenant before coming to the Delta Marshals Office in 2011. 

In 2016, Kennedy also became the village’s fire chief. In this role, he has been able to acquire a Sparton pumper truck and a heavy duty rescue truck. He has also worked continuously to improve training protocols for the all-volunteer department.

When asked what he enjoys about his positions, his reply was simple: “I enjoy helping the public.” 

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Those who keep us safe: Sam Brocato

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(photo courtesy Sam Brocato)

For 25 years, Sam Brocato has provided fire and rescue services for residents of Vicksburg with the Vicksburg Fire Department.

“I knew coming into this job I wasn’t going to get rich, but I was rich and filled with the knowledge of knowing I am helping the community I love, and that’s what makes me feel accomplished,” Brocato said.

Twenty-five years has created long-lasting memories and even longer friendships.

“I hired on with a good group of people in 1995,” he said. “They hired 17 of us in that class.”

Brocato said nine of the 17 that were in his hiring class are still with the department, including Chief Craig Danzyck. Others have retired or moved to different departments.

When asked what his favorite part was of serving on the fire department, Brocato said his co-workers have had the greatest impact on his 25 years.

“They are always there for you, especially during a hard time,” he said. “If you’re missing a play for your children or even a ceremony, working with your team is like having a whole other family to rely on.”

Earlier this year, Brocato lost his mom and during his time of grief, his co-workers stepped up and have been there for him.

“They really helped and listened,” he said.

Brocato is not a Vicksburg native. He started his career as a sheriff’s deputy for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office in Metairie, Louisiana, from 1985 to 1992. It was there he discovered his desire to be in the fire service.

“I got to watch the firefighters and rescue units work,” he said. “They saved people’s lives, and I said, ‘That’s what I want to do.’”

Brocato was promoted to a captain with the Vicksburg Fire Department in 2015.

Over his 25 years as a firefighter, Brocato has been a part of many life-saving calls, but the one that he finds most memorable happened four years ago.

In 2016, four male high school students from Porter’s Chapel Academy lost control of their vehicle and struck a tree. All four of the young men were severely injured.

“It was a hot and humid summer day, but the fire department was there for them,” he said.

Brocato said he likes to think he was a helping hand in saving their lives. Today, he said, he sees the boys around town along with others whom he has had an integral part in saving.

“When I see people I helped, it’s just a joy to see them knowing I helped them,” he said. “They don’t call me their hero, but they are thankful for me.”

Like many first responders, Brocato doesn’t consider himself a hero, either.

“We are trained to do a job,” he said. “For me, I’m fulfilling my life calling. It just feeds your soul knowing you’re making a difference for somebody else.”

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Bringing Christmas to children around the world

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First Baptist volunteers packing shoeboxes last year (photo courtesy First Baptist Church of Vicksburg)

It won’t be long before we are inundated with Christmas lights twinkling in stores, carols on the radio and television commercials hawking the latest “it” toys destined to turn up on many children’s Christmas lists.

For many underprivileged children around the world, though, there is no reason to wait up on Christmas Eve. There are no jingling bells or red-nosed reindeer.

Members of First Baptist Church of Vicksburg have worked to share joy and hope to needy children in troubled countries like El Salvador and India for the last 25 years. They have partnered with a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse called Operation Christmas Child. Samaritan’s Purse is a Christian relief and evangelism ministry led by Franklin Graham.

Operation Christmas Child’s mission is to fill shoeboxes with toys, school supplies, hygiene items and other small trinkets to be delivered to children who would not otherwise experience the joy of receiving gifts on Christmas morning.

The project begins with FBC committee members asking people to make donations.

“Many parents use this project to teach their kids about giving,” said Lynda Oswalt, a longtime volunteer. “We often have teachers who are looking for service projects for their classes, and the students get to be involved.”

The filled shoeboxes are taken to First Baptist Church which serves as the drop-off location for all of Warren County.

“Every box is checked for appropriate items before being taken to the distribution center in Atlanta,” Oswalt said.

The number of shoeboxes collected is in the thousands, so the ministry depends on volunteers to inspect and prepare each one for shipping. Work stops for a few minutes every hour and everyone prays for the children who will end up receiving them.

Cartons of shoeboxes ready for shipment. (photo courtesy First Baptist Church of Vicksburg)

The organization delivers shoeboxes in more than 100 countries worldwide where churches hand out the gifts at festive outreach events where the Gospel is clearly presented. Some boxes are distributed to orphanages, hospitals and places that house children at risk to share the hope of Christ.

The ultimate goal of Operation Christmas Child is to introduce the story of Christ’s love to as many people as possible.

In 2012, Oswalt, Hester Pitts and Becky Yelverton traveled to Peru and witnessed the transformation of communities for themselves.

“We delivered 1,600 boxes to children and were able to tell them all about Christ’s love for us. Many of them accepted Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior,” Oswalt said about the experience. “I can’t explain what that felt like. My heart was just beyond touched.”

To ensure this year’s shoeboxes reach their destinations on time, First Baptist will hold a dedication service Sunday, Nov. 15. Volunteers are still needed to help collect, inspect and pack the boxes.

Volunteers are also needed to fill the boxes with appropriate items. Some of these include toys such as small cars, balls, dolls, stuffed animals, harmonicas and yo-yo’s; school supplies such as pens, pencils, crayons, coloring books and writing pads; hygiene items such as toothbrushes, soap, combs and washcloths; and other items such as ball caps, socks, T-shirts, toy jewelry and books. Prohibited items include anything used, toy guns or other weapons, perishable food items, toothpaste, hard candy, medicines and liquids.

Volunteers and donors are encouraged to enclose a note to the child and a photograph of themselves or their families.

Oswalt said being a part of such a ministry fills her heart with joy. “Last year, 11 million boxes were collected nationwide, and Warren County was responsible for 5,531 of those,” she said. “That’s 11 million children ministered to and given the chance to know God. I can’t imagine receiving a better Christmas gift.”

If you are interested in donating or volunteering, please call Hester Pitts at 601-415-7334 or Lynda Oswalt at 601-629-7822.

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Teen United project to benefit Warren County Children’s Shelter

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October Youth leader Jane Hopson (photo courtesy of United Way of West Central Misssissippi)

Teen United of the United Way of West Central Mississippi has chosen the Warren County Children’s Shelter as its community service project for October.

The shelter is a nationally registered National Safe Place that takes in abused, neglected, runaway, and homeless children and youth. The shelter offers a safe, home-like refuge for children and youth in need, according to its website.

“I am very excited about the project they’re putting together,” said Michelle Connelly, executive director of the United Way chapter.

Youth leader Jane Hopson announced the project on Facebook and invited other teens in the community to join.

“We are focusing on shining the light on mental health,” Hopson said.

The project will include making posters with motivational and uplifting quotes. She is asking for everyone to make two posters to be hung in the rooms of the children that are in shelter.

“Our goal is to fill up the whole wall at the Children’s Shelter,” Hopson said.

Hopson is also asking teens to make envelopes labeled “Pieces of Positivity”  with special messages inside to give to each child as they enter the shelter.

A date has not been set yet for the project but Hopson will announce it soon. Teens interested in joining the effort can inbox the United Way Instagram page.

Teen United is made up of teens from every high school in the Vicksburg area. Each month, they choose a different organization to help and a different youth leader. In September, they gathered hygiene products and delivered them to the Veterans Administration in Jackson.

Hopson is the youth leader for the month of October.  Watch her announcement below.

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