Each gathering is special at the annual Salem Camp Meeting, but this year promises to be even more exciting, especially for the youth.
Santana Dotson, who played 11 years in the NFL and was the starting defensive lineman for the Super Bowl XXXI Champion Green Bay Packers, will be a guest speaker at the inspirational week-long event.
"We're extremely delighted to have him," said Mayor Sam Ramsey, program chairman of Salem Camp Ground.
The 179th Salem Camp Meeting, which is one of the oldest interdenominational campsite meetings in the country, is a place of peace and tranquility for people to find spiritual restitution. The encampment includes a mixed variety of activities for family and friends of all ages, ranging from children to adults.
But Dotson's visit is specifically aimed at the youth in the district, and the quest to raise their spiritual development as a young person.
"(Dotson) was in town about a month ago," said Ramsey, "and he stopped by (Ramsey Furniture Co.) to meet and visit with me. After talking to him, I learned that he was very interested in helping the young people. So, I told him about the event and he volunteered to come to the Salem Camp Meeting."
Ramsey said he thought it was a great idea to have the former NFL star make an appearance, especially if it involves attracting more of the younger folks in the area to the religious event.
Dr. Clayton Oliphint, senior pastor of the 6,000-member First United Methodist Church in Richardson, Texas will preach during the 11 a.m. service on July 14. The youth who attend the service will have the opportunity to hear and meet Dotson at 1 p.m. In addition, a free lunch will be provided at 12:15 p.m. for those who attend the worship service.
"I'm hoping that (Dotson) will come and reach out to the young people in the community," said Ramsey.
Before he was a force to be reckoned with as an NFL defensive lineman, Dotson was a three-year starter at Baylor University in Waco, Texas from 1988-91. He was a standout on the gridiron for the Bears, and was a consensus first-team All-America selection in his senior year.
Dotson ended his collegiate career with 193 total tackles, including 18 sacks, four forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
After graduating from Baylor with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications, Dotson was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1992. Immediately, he made his presence known throughout the league. Based on his commitment and remarkable defense, Dotson recorded a team-high 10 sacks and earned the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
Dotson spent four seasons with the Buccaneers and played in all 64 games before joining the Packers in '96, where he enjoyed six memorable seasons.
During his first three seasons in Green Bay, Dotson and the legendary Reggie White were an unstoppable duo on the defensive side of the pigskin. (Combined, Dotson and White recorded 49.5 sacks.)
As a result, Dotson was a key reason why the '96 Packers advanced and won Super Bowl XXXI, as they defeated the New England Patriots, 35-21. Dotson recorded one sack in the championship game, but more importantly he helped bring the Vince Lombardi Trophy back to Lambeau Field.
Dotson was signed by the Washington Redskins in 2002 but soon retired thereafter, and has since committed himself to something else that he absolutely loves - helping others.
Currently, he devotes most of his time to his program, The Santana Dotson Sponsorship Foundation. It is designed to aid financially challenged - yet praiseworthy - Houston inner city high school students so they have the opportunity to attend college.
Several requirements are necessary in order to become eligible for the program, including a minimum 2.5 GPA, a written essay and volunteering time to a non-profit association or neighborhood improvement project.
The idea is to teach young individuals how important it is to help others in need of assistance.
Not only do the sponsorship recipients obtain financial support, but different "How-To" workshops are created to help with guidance on goal-setting, interpersonal skills, the importance of personal integrity and the significance of giving back to others.
The foundation is affiliated with All Sports Community Service, which is a non-profit organization that is supported by NFL charities. Based on its mission and goals, ASCS is being considered a national program model.
"If we can draw some of the youth in the area to come to the church service by bringing (Dotson), that would be great," said Ramsey.