July 13, 2017

Vacation Bible school keeps kids cool and close to Christ

Story and photos by Carolee McGrath

A young camper at St. Michael Parish in East Longmeadow gets his turn on the water slide during the parish’s 13th annual Vacation Bible School (VBS).

EAST LONGMEADOW – In the sticky July heat, kids at St. Michael Parish in East Longmeadow found relief on a huge, inflatable water slide outside the parish center on Somers Road on Wednesday, July 12.

It was non-stop activity as more than 130 children, ages 4 to 11, moved from one activity to the next at the 13th Vacation Bible School (VBS) held at the church. This year, children attended the “Maker Fun Factory: Created by God, Built for a Purpose” themed camp, staffed by 90 volunteers. The camp was held Monday, July 10, through Thursday, July 13, from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

“So many parents tell us this is their favorite camp. What I’ve seen is children go from camper, to counselor, to volunteer,” said Rose Stella, the director of religious education at St. Michael’s. She said most of her teenage counselors grew up attending the camp. Many of the parents pitch in to make the elaborate decorations, including robots and a beautiful mural, which depicted the camp’s theme. Other volunteers helped serve snacks, make crafts, and supervise the different age groups.

The curriculum of the camp, developed by Our Sunday Visitor, includes lessons on the saints and Bible stories.

“All of us here end up having an experience with the Holy Spirit by the end of the week,” Stella continued, explaining how the camp is often life changing, as both young and old grow in their relationship with Christ. Campers also learned about service, raising money to help support Shriners Hospital for Children in Springfield.

Rose Stella, director of faith formation at St. Michael Parish poses with campers: (left to right) Ryan Martin, Javier Herrera, Emma Cicciarella, and Mara Heyer.

“We have seen a continuity with kids attending Bible camp with the parish. It’s a nice puzzle piece that puts everything together,” said Stella, adding Bible camp often connects families with the parish. She said campers typically become involved in parish life, joining the youth group or helping out with the sandwich ministry, for example.

Stella invites families to come back Thursday evening for a performance to showcase all of the lessons and the praise and worship songs they learned during the week.

“We choose six songs from the camp. This year’s script is about one of the robots that is wonderfully made. We talk about how we’re wonderfully made. God will always love us,” said Stella, who wrote the script.

“I love it so much,” said 17-year-old volunteer, Katie Roeder. “If you look around at the parish center, we change this entire place into a place where you realize God is present in this moment in us.”

Camp counselor Katie Roeder helps kids make a craft at St. Michael’s Vacation Bible School, Wednesday July 12.

Roeder, a member of the parish youth group, will be a senior at East Longmeadow High School in September.

“It’s a wonderful place to come and explore and see Christ,” she said.

Children in Granby were also attending a version of the “Maker Fun Factory.” Volunteers at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish transformed their parish center with colorful decorations and a life-sized robot.

“This is our 20th vacation Bible school. Each year we get excited. We have many wonderful volunteers. They’re filled with God’s grace,” said Father Charles Kuzmeski, pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Campers at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Granby pose for a quick picture before breaking off into groups at the 20th annual VBS, Wednesday, July 12. The campers learned that they were created by God and built for a purpose.

Forty-five children traveled from Bible stories, to crafts to games to snack to music throughout the morning. Most of the teenage counselors started off as campers.

“It’s great to be with the kids. They have a fun time. They get closer to God. It makes me feel closer to God,” said Faith Bergeron, a counselor and soon-to-be sophomore at Granby High School. Bergeron began attending the camp when she was 4 years old. “It’s fun every year,” she added.

The campers also collected items and raise money to help children around the world.

“We choose a place where we will collect things or funds for children. This year we are serving both the Philippines and Liberia, Liberia because our mission priest is from Liberia,” said Kathryn Buckley-Brawner, the director of faith formation and pastoral minister at the parish.

She said the week is always a hit with both the campers and volunteers.

“I absolutely love it. Most people say this is the way faith formation should always be. When we get to the end of the week, we always get people who say we should do another week. It generates enthusiasm about the faith,” Buckley-Brawner said.

 Father Kuzmeski said by the end of the week, the campers understand that they are created by God and built for a purpose, correlating with the theme.

“The children inspire us. Like Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me,’” said Father Kuzmeski. “As I get older, they keep me young. At the end of the week they truly understand that God loves them, that they were created by God, and that they’re not alone. God is walking with them.”

For a video version of this story, tune into an upcoming edition of “Real to Reel” the Diocese of Springfield’s weekly television newsmagazine that airs Saturday evenings at 7 on WWLP-22 NEWS