When school lets out for the summer, the children’s excitement is palpable. They are free of their school routines and the summer break offers them time to take part in a whole host of fun activities. In addition to the sports camps, summer sports seasons, and various other camps or family vacations, the parish offered three great programs that gave kids of all ages the opportunity to grow in their faith and friendship with other young Catholics.
Vacation Bible School (VBS) took place in June for children entering kindergarten through sixth grade. Our VBS program differs from many others in that it starts at 9 a.m. and goes through 2:15 p.m. This five-day program gave kids the opportunity to attend Mass, play games, create fun crafts, and learn about the Catholic faith in a fun, energetic environment.
This year, we were joined by 32 kids who took part in the space-themed program called Stellar, which is put together by Our Sunday Visitor. The program was facilitated by 10 volunteer middle school and high school students and about seven adult volunteers, along with the wonderful kitchen volunteers who provided lunch daily for the group.
“We had so much fun learning and playing,” says Lisa Short, the Religious Education Administrative Assistant. “The kids didn’t want it to end! They always tell us that they want to come back the following week!”
For our sixth through eighth-grade students, Camp WOW has been a favorite summer opportunity since 1997. This camp gives middle school students the chance to experience Mass and adoration, engage in praise and worship, hear witness talks from camp counselors, and participate in a myriad of fun activities — obstacle courses and zip lines, canoeing, geocaching, and service projects. Every afternoon, the campers go swimming and have small-group discussions and group activities in the evenings.
“This camp got the campers outside of their normal group,” Lisa says. “They met new friends and many experienced things like adoration for the first time. It was such a great opportunity where they came together, had so much fun, and saw other kids practicing their faith and having fun with it as well. We had so many positive reactions from the campers. It really solidified their faith and they just had a great time. Many come back year after year!”
Camp WOW is put together by a group of nine parishes in the region. Planning for the camp starts in the fall and the organizers meet often to put the whole program together. High school students apply to be counselors and once they are accepted, they attend four or five training sessions in preparation. This year, there were 86 campers in attendance and 27 high school counselors.
“Most of our counselors previously attended the camp as well,” Lisa says. “That shows us that it is such a great experience for them that they want to give that back to the younger kids. Between the training and the camp itself, it is a commitment for them to take part in this. It is amazing to see how many want to do this and continue to come back and do it year after year.”
When it comes to summer activities, our high school students have a fantastic opportunity to engage with other young Catholics and deepen their faith. Each year, the students are invited to attend the Steubenville Conference at Mid-America in Springfield, MO. The conference has nationally renowned speakers like Deacon Bob Rice, musician Sarah Kroger, Sister M. Karolyn Nunes, Chika Anyanwu, Jimmy Mitchell, and Fr. Rick Martignetti. Attendees have the opportunity to go to Confession and attend Mass as a group. The Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is often considered one of the most powerful parts of the entire conference. This year’s conference hosted a block party to allow those in attendance to spend time together and get to know each other while celebrating their faith that unites them. Many of the attendees shared that this was their favorite part of the conference.
“Seeing other young adults in Christ at the conference was the most touching part for me,” says Malayna Kinney, one of the high schoolers who attended the conference this summer. “It gives me hope that our world isn’t completely broken. It gives me hope that everyone who was there loved Jesus enough to go and can return home and share that love. I think that our world is so broken because of the lies and hatred from Satan, but I know that Jesus’ love heals and restores and because of what I witnessed at Steubenville, I have hope that our strong Catholic community will show and spread Jesus’ love and help to heal our broken world.”
“It was so fun to connect with other people who were on fire for God, especially other teenagers,” says Olivia Thrall. “It is not very often that I see other kids my age who are interested in living for the Lord. Mass may seem boring to most kids. At the start of the weekend, I wasn’t sure about whether I belonged there or not but as the weekend progressed, the Holy Spirit made me sure that I was meant to be there. Even though I am not Catholic, I was met with nothing but acceptance, love, and friendship. It really re-ignited my fire for God and I want everyone to know about it.”
As a parish, we are so thankful to be able to offer these events to our students of all ages to help them to grow in holiness and have real experiences with their peers who are seeking to live their lives in Christ as well. We extend our thanks to all of our stewards who worked hard to make these events possible and give these opportunities to the youth of our parish.