Summer means a lot of things to a lot of people. For Caspian Thompson, 6, summer means Vacation Bible School.
“He went last year and loved it. He’s been counting down the days for this year,” said Erin Thompson, Caspian’s mother, as she dropped him off at the Patch VBS on July 29.
Caspian is not the only Thompson with a high regard for VBS. “We seriously love it. It reinforces what we’re trying to teach at home,” she added.
More than 300 children in preschool to fourth grade attended the U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart Religious Support Office-hosted nondenominational VBS. Two sessions were offered: a morning session at Patch Elementary School, held July 25-29, and an evening session at Robinson Barracks Elementary/Middle School, held Aug. 1-5.
This year’s theme, “Pandamania,” took the children on an adventure into a bamboo forest where they experienced “how wild God is about them” through Bible stories, activities, music and challenges.
The contemporary curriculum included multi-media slide shows and videos; infectious, catchy praise songs; skits and crafts, all designed to reinforce a daily Bible teaching or “Bible point.”
One-hundred and twenty youth and adult volunteers kept 246 children at the Patch VBS in constant motion, as they moved in multi-age “crews” from station to station every 20 minutes or so.
On July 29, the team of volunteers who headed up the crafts station for elementary school children prepared for the first group of kids by organizing worktables with supplies for decorating lanyards that helped to emphasize the day’s Bible learning that “God gives good gifts.”
“When the children come in, they are so excited,” said Crystal Avent, an assistant leader for the station.
With only 20 minutes to give directions, help the kids complete their projects and connect the craft to the daily teaching, “We have to be focused and make sure we get the important points across,” she said.
But Avent, eight months pregnant, hung in like a trooper. “Being on my feet is rough,” she said. “It’s exhausting, but it’s fun.
“It’s great that the chapel can support these kinds of activities. Stuttgart does a wonderful job in providing Christian fellowship,” added the Navy spouse.
Meanwhile, Avent’s 4-year-old daughter Hannah and 22 other preschool children were involved in activities such as a balloon hot potato game.
On this day, Panda Patrol member Josh Camacho, 16, supervised a small group of the preschoolers at play. “The Panda Patrol picks up the slack in whatever area needs it,” he said. “I’ve played Peter in a drama, made snacks, helped numerous lost kids, and today, I’m assisting the crew leader.”
Participating in VBS allowed the soon-to-be Patch High School senior to rack up some volunteer hours, but that was not his sole motivation. “I get to work with the little kids — most of them are super-cute — plus, I get to be a big kid,” he said.
Robinson Barracks’ VBS, with 74 participants and 57 volunteers, was on a smaller scale but had no less of an impact.
“It’s smaller by number, but it’s really the Robinson community here. The kids all know each other, and it’s a very family-oriented setting,” said Jim Sciegel, the Religious Education director for the garrison’s Religious Support Office.
The real difference, however, was that the RB VBS was held in the evening rather than the morning, but the time difference did not seem to affect the participants.
“My kids have been in camp this week, and they are so excited when I pick them up to bring them here. They get to socialize and interact with their friends,” said Terrie Lowery, a Navy spouse and RB resident.
The experience was also satisfying for Lowery, who volunteered as a station leader. “It’s been good for my heart. The church community here is the closest thing that’s come to feeling like home since we’ve been in the Navy — and that’s 18 years.”
A part of any vacation bible school focuses on a special mission project.
For the past four years, the RSO has supported a program called Portion for Orphans, a not-for-profit organization established to “raise public awareness about orphans worldwide and improve the quality of care provided to orphans,” according to its website.
The VBS participants also supported this organization.
“This year the children, doing chores or using money saved in piggy banks, shared their abundance with the New Hope Orphanage in China,” said Religious Education Director Sciegel.
“They raised almost $6,000. This will provide for 30 cleft lip or corrective surgeries on children under the age of 3. It was an outstanding support of the children and their families for Portion for Orphans,” he added.