by Cori Hilsgen
Volunteers are a big part of why the annual Vacation Bible School event has been taking place for about 35 years.
This year, organizers and 84 children from the St. Joseph area, who gathered for a week of Vacation Bible School July 29-Aug. 2 at Resurrection Lutheran Church, wanted to especially thank and recognize the work volunteers do to make the event possible.
Volunteers were recognized with “thank yous” from students at activity stations and small groups throughout the week.
Special treats with a note, which corresponded to this year’s event theme, were also distributed. One example was hand sanitizer on the night the Bible story of Naaman being healed from skin sores was told. Additionally, families decorated paper bags and filled them with various items for volunteers.
Organizers Marian Bach and Laura Gorder from the Church of St. Joseph Catholic Church, Rachel Kuebelbeck from Resurrection Lutheran Church, and the Rev. Bruce and Joy Tessen, husband and wife from Gateway Church, coordinated the event with at least 42 volunteers to make it a fun, faith-filled experience for area children.
Most volunteers for this year’s event donated more than 15 hours of their time to help students learn about God and faith, as well as additional preparation time before the event.
Gorder said volunteers often fill in by helping where and whenever they can, including one person who played the guitar a few nights and another person who brought in some backdrops after seeing the decorations the first evening of the event.
She said each of the volunteers plays an essential role in how the week flows and organizers are very grateful for their willingness to step up and do what needs to be done.
Some of the event’s volunteers include returning Vacation Bible School participants such as Soren Haaland and Brandon Zimmer who helped lead games this year.
Many volunteers have returned to volunteer for several years (some more than 30 years) with the program. Some of these include Sarah Covelli, Alana Curtis, Susan Curtis, Laura Gorder, Laura Johannes, Rachel Kuebelbeck, Lori Schneider, the Rev. Bruce Tessen, Joy Tessen and Lisa Wallin.
A few volunteers commented on why they volunteer for the event.
“I have been a snack leader,” Covelli said. “My favorite part is helping and seeing kids have fun regardless of where they come from. Kids bring me back every year. I think Vacation Bible School is important to the community because it shares God’s acceptance of all us imperfect people.”
“I have been a child participant, a helper, group guide and station leader,” Curtis said. “My favorite part is the excitement shared by everyone. It’s a community of faith that has such amazing strength to give everyone an amazing time. I can’t imagine not coming back. You look forward to seeing everyone and the theme. It becomes an invested addiction. I think Vacation Bible School being three churches coming together shares with the St. Jo(seph) community a safe and clean place for kids to have a day camp experience. We also choose to give back to the community for our service projects.”
“My role in Vacation Bible School has changed over the years from snack helper to information desk to being a group helper,” Laura Roske said. “My favorite part of Vacation Bible is seeing how excited the kids are to participate in the songs and activities.”
“I have coordinated snacks, been a group leader/helper and coordinated the games,” Schneider said. “My favorite part is the fun energy the kids have while learning about and praising God. I come back every year because I have fun and because I know in order for my kids to have these experiences it takes a lot of volunteers. I love St. Joseph’s Vacation Bible School is a community Vacation Bible School program, welcoming all kids. There is often a service element which teaches the kids to give back to their community.”
“My role originally when we were classroom-based, I taught 5-year-olds, kindergarten (my favorite) and third-grade,” Wallin said. “When we transitioned to station-based, I became the crafts-and-science coordinator and I’ve been doing that ever since. My favorite? Watching the wonder in their eyes as a cola-candy geyser climbs seven feet high, or that smile of accomplishment when they create a beautiful craft with their little hands. What brings me back? The kids, the music, the fun, and the great group of coordinators and volunteers we have. What (do) we bring to the community? It’s the opportunity for children to connect with God and learn about the Bible in a fun way and the opportunity to see all the churches in the community working together to accomplish that goal.”
“My wife and I coordinated the games our first year,” the Rev. Bruce Tessen said. “Joy went on to lead games again with some helpers. We have helped in the planning and organizing of Vacation Bible School as well. The past six years I have been the Bible story teller and have thoroughly enjoyed it. The kids bring me back year after year.”
“I participated in Vacation Bible School as a kid when it was over at the (St. Joseph) Lab School,” Kuebelbeck said. “I helped as soon as I was able for many, many years. I have been one of the coordinators for nine years. My favorite part is the energy – it can be electric and inspiring. When you are surrounded by 150-200 people who are dancing and singing about God’s love, it’s impossible not to join in. The St. Joseph Vacation Bible School program is unique because we intentionally work with all the churches and faithful people within the community to create a program that everyone feels welcome. For some kids, this is their ‘worship experience’ for the year. For others, this is a chance to come together with friends from a different faith tradition to share the universal love of God in a fun and engaging way. For other kids, it’s a chance to be with other kids in faith because their church is very small.”
Children, ages 4 years old through sixth grade, learned about faith through this year’s theme of “Splash Canyon.”
Participants learned about God’s Promise to be with them on the “wild ride” of life. Decorations for the event included camp/river rapids themes. Bible stories shared were about Moses as a baby in the river, how God was with the people when they entered the Promised land, how God healed Naaman in the river, how God saved Paul from the storm at sea and how God said yes to Jesus during his Baptism.
Children learned by daily rotating activity-stations during the five days. Activities included Bible stories, music, snacks, games, and crafts-and-science experiments relating to the theme.
Participants also learned about water conservation and protection and made promises to save or protect water on pieces of paper shaped like water drops. The water drops were arranged on a kayak in the church entrance.