Usually Patch Elementary School is pretty quiet this time of year … the desks are empty, the public address system silent, the bulletin boards blank. Yet laughter echoed through the halls as 221 children and 110 volunteers were in constant motion during the garrison-sponsored Vacation Bible School for 5- to 11-year-olds, held July 30 to Aug. 3 at the school.
“The best part of VBS is seeing children happy, smiling, remembering different Bible stories and various Bible verses, and going home … helping their parents learn about God,” said James Sciegel, the U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart Religious Education Director. This year’s theme at the nondenominational VBS was “Sky — Everything is possible with God.” Airplanes, clouds and balloons were everywhere in support of the theme. Each three hour session started with an opening sing along session. Then the children, divided into 24 “flight crews” of varying ages, rotated through stations that included hands-on activities, videos, Bible stories and discussion, games and a snack, before the groups came back together for a closing song.
In addition, children were able to contribute funds to Portions for Orphans — a not-for-profit organization focused on improving the quality of care provided to orphans — by doing chores or projects and donating the money, Sciegel said.
Each day, the children learned “Bible points” to help them relate to God in their own lives. For example, on Wednesday, the phrase to remember was: “No matter what people do, trust God.” Samantha Stachitas, 8, took it a step further. “No matter how you feel and what people do, trust God!” she said, in response to what she had just learned. One of the most popular stations was Chadder’s Theater, where children watched videos about Chadder, a mischievous talking chipmunk, and his adventures.
Volunteers Linda Sanborn and Jessica Cassidy then led the children through discussions to make sure they got the message of each video. At another station, blue balloons were filled with “God’s love” and launched through hula hoops.
“Last year was more focused on arts and crafts, but this year is more hands-on,” said volunteer Christy Benitez, whose two daughters begged to come back to VBS again this year.
“It’s is a good program for children. My kids get excited every morning, asking what is next?” she said. Benitez said that she thinks the sky theme is great, and that it makes the kids think big. “With God, there are no limits,” she added.
Chester Johnson, 7, also returned because of his experience last year. “I wanted to come back for the second time this year because it is fun. I like the games … I like Orville the pig because I’m a fan of pigs.” His brother, Henry, 12, volunteered, and found himself playing “Flash Skyrunner,” a pilot in training, in the closing skit.
“I love to act, and it is the best feeling in the world,” Henry said. His material, however, was not the easiest to work with. “It’s hard to memorize Bible quotes …,” he said.
For volunteer and mom Marie-Christine Kemp, VBS has been a way to introduce her children to a new community. “We have moved 13 times in 20 years. Being involved in the chapel helps my children to stay busy making new friends,” she said. The USAG Stuttgart Religious Support Office was able to provide VBS thanks in part to funding from the Department of Defense, but the majority of funds were generated through offerings collected during Protestant and Catholic services, according to Religious Education Director Sciegel.
In a change from previous years, VBS was limited to Patch Barracks. The decision to forego VBS at Robinson Barracks was a difficult one, and the result of RSO staff downsizing, funding and logistical difficulties, Sciegel said.