BRIDGEPORT—Summertime is upon us, and while this season brings opportunities for rest, relaxation and recreation, there are also many programs that allow people in the diocese to experience spiritual growth. Vacation Bible Camps provide this and so much more for school-aged children, as well as teen and adult volunteers.
St. Theresa Church in Trumbull is gearing up for their fourth Vacation Bible Camp for children in preschool through Grade 5. Rose Talbot-Babey, the camp’s coordinator, has been directing the camp since she came to the diocese.
Open to regional Catholic and non-Catholics, over 100 campers and 70 teen volunteers will gather at St. Theresa’s the week of June 24-28 for the camp, which will be led by three Dominican sisters from Mary, Mother of the Eucharist of Ann Arbor, MI (Rose has previously worked with this order in Florida). Each summer, on their way back to their Motherhouse, the sisters who are in formation engage in mission work, including helping at Vacation Bible Camps.
This year’s theme at St. Theresa’s is “Meeting Jesus in the Mass,” and two of the sisters will assist with the teaching portion of the camp, and another, who is also a professional musician, will provide liturgical music for the Mass to be held on the last day of camp.
The camp’s activities will include games, music, Scripture skits, and crafts, and each day will conclude with a closing program. One of the highlights of this year’s camp will be a Vocations Lunch held on Wednesday for the teen volunteers. In this informal time of socialization, the teens are invited to ask the sisters any questions they may have about their own experiences with discerning God’s will for their lives, both in terms of their vocation and in general (many of the sisters are young and have gone to college).
At this lunch and throughout the week, the sisters “make themselves available to the teens,” says Talbot-Babey. The presence and leadership of the sisters will undoubtedly make for a fruitful camp experience for all involved.
St. Rose of Lima Church in Newtown is also preparing for a Vacation Bible Camp this summer. The theme of this year’s camp is “Shipwrecked: Rescued by Jesus,” where the focus is on “the saving power of Jesus’ love,” says camp co-coordinator Laura Brennan. Campers will have the opportunity to sing, dance, play outdoors, and have time for a snack, while learning about God through all of it. “We refer to it as the happiest week of the year at St. Rose,” says Brennan.
Kathleen Rooney, Director of Religious Education at Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Wilton, will be directing this year’s Vacation Bible Camp. The parish has hosted a Bible Camp since the early 1990s, and enrollment usually averages around 40-60 children. Each day consists of a rotation of half-hour sessions, including music, crafts, Bible stories, and outdoor recreation.
On the final day, a closing ceremony is held, in which children read Scripture passages that relate to the camp’s theme, “Jesus is Our Friend,” and sing songs that they learned throughout the week.
Rooney has received positive feedback from parents who have had children attend. She says “their kids love it, they’re happy, they’re singing the songs at home, and the parents say ‘We’re learning the songs, too!’ With every camp, Rooney says “we really want them [the children] to feel the love of God in their hearts—that’s what it’s all about.”
Donna Lane has been helping out with the Vacation Bible Camp at her parish, St. Jude in Monroe, since she arrived in 2001. Each year, they have about 100 campers, as well as a combination of adult and teen volunteers. Most of the teens have already gone through the program themselves and then return as volunteers. Each day, campers participate in a morning assembly with prayer, songs, and the presentation of the Bible verse for that day, followed by a series of fun activities that include crafts, snack time, recreation, and a Bible lesson.
The Bible lessons are told through the stories of different animals, as part of this year’s theme: “Into the Wild.” The last day of camp includes a closing program, which Lane says is one of the highlights. The campers perform songs they have learned for their parents and grandparents, and they enjoy the interactive hand movements.
Any teen volunteers who are “camp veterans” also stand up to be recognized. “People can see just how many return and what an impact the camp has had upon them,” says Lane. Anybody involved with this year’s camp is invited to an ice cream social and bonfire on the church grounds the evening of the last day of camp.
At. St. Aloysius Parish in New Canaan, children in Vacation Bible Camp will be learning about the Holy Trinity through the teaching of St. Patrick. One of the camp co-directors, Kiana O’Reilly, hopes the children come to “understand the Trinity like a family” and “keep thinking about God everyday.” In addition to daily activities, such as music, crafts, and Bible lessons, campers will be treated to special programs, such as “water day” and shows put on by the parish’s Youth Group Bible Troupe.
Coming from the perspective of a parent, Kiana notes that “we’re all trying to do the best we can in raising them [our children]. When it becomes difficult, we can reach out to the Church.” Vacation Bible Camp is one of the ways parents can do that.
Children between ages 3 and 9 are invited to attend Vacation Bible School at St. Mary Parish in Bethel from July 8-12. “Led by adult staff and volunteer counselors, VBS offers fun and learning for the whole week,” says Maggie Kent of St. Mary’s Religious Education. Past activities have included outdoor games, skits performed by older children, musical performances, and art projects centered around the week’s theme.
Kent says “we look forward to keeping children engaged in the community, having fun and learning about Bible stories that affect their lives and how they can live those out everyday!”
Every year, the town of Brookfield hosts an Ecumenical Vacation Bible Camp, a tradition that has been going on for about 50 years. St. Joseph Parish in Brookfield is one of three host parishes, along with two Protestant churches in Brookfield.
The camp is run by parents, college students, and high school students, and “has the support of all church leaders,” says Margaret Petta, one of the coordinators. The priests and pastors from different religious denominations come to visit the camp, and the children meet and learn more about the leaders of their friends’ churches. Petta says “it’s great for children to realize that other people worship God, too, just in a different place.”
The camp has always yielded a “very large turnout,” and Petta has lots of volunteers who help to make it a success, both young and old. “There’s women who are in their 70s who work in the kitchen who have had children and now grandchildren go through the camp,” she says. The high school and college student volunteers serve as mentors for the younger volunteers, and they train them in various ways, such as in leading games for the campers. “It’s just beautiful,” describes Petta.
When asked what makes this camp so special, Petta spoke of her own experience attending Vacation Bible Camp.
“As a kid, VBC was so boring at my church. Now, our older kids [the volunteers] take a week off from work to be with us. College kids will ask ‘How can we come help you?’” There is a large community of people who are ready, willing, and excited to help out with this camp, all of whom have had very positive experiences. Petta’s own children have been participants, “so I have seen it through their eyes and how much it meant to them,” she says.
Through engaging in Bible stories, creating an craft project, playing games outside, working on a science project, or enjoying snacks donated from parishioners of the different host parishes, the campers learn about and encounter God as a Christian community. Petta remarked about the camp: “Regardless of what church you belong to, everybody is so proud of it.”
Vacation Bible Camps are not the only camp experience in which children can engage this summer. The Early Childhood Program at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Fairfield is hosting a 7-week Summer Camp for Pre-K students. From 9-12, Monday through Friday, children “will develop their social, emotional, physical and intellectual growth through various hands-on activities that encourage their enthusiasm and curiosity,” says Shelby Vosk, lead Pre-Kindergarten teacher at St. Thomas Aquinas School.
Each week of the camp will have a unique theme with corresponding activities, such as “read-aloud, crafts, songs, games and water play.” The camp will allow young children to learn, explore, meet new people, all while having fun.
Karen Soares-Robinson is the Director of Religious Education and Director of the 5-Week Summer Camp at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Bridgeport. She has led the program for the last four years, and notes “I’m the director and I get excited about it!” The primary goal, she says, is for the kids to have fun, and there are plenty of opportunities for them to do so. The group of 50 campers participates in station rotations, consisting of table games and arts and crafts, and go swimming at the local YMCA.
On Fridays, they take field trips to various fun spots, such as Lake Compounce, Urban Air, or a hike with pastor, Fr. Joseph “Skip” Karcsinski. Toward the end of camp, they have opportunities to tie-dye t-shirts, build camaraderie through a field day, and even participate in a baking competition (Top-Chef-style, with judges). Even with all of these activities, each day of the camp begins with time for the children to read books.
“They come in, drop everything and read,” Soares-Robinson says. Often, the kids use this time to do some of their summer reading for school. After reading time, they will share a bit about what they read with the other campers and counselors.
The children also receive spiritual formation each morning, as the counselors present them a “lesson of the day.” This theme, says Soares-Robinson, is related to the question of “What would Jesus do in a particular circumstance?” The campers act out skits based on the “lesson of the day,” and then engage in discussion with each other and their counselors. The goal is for them to make real-world applications.
One of Karen’s favorite moments from the camp is when the kids help plant a garden in the cold houses located on the parish grounds. The food that is grown is donated to the Blessed Sacrament Food Pantry. The children have decorated the garden with murals and hand-written notes that describe what the camp means to them. “I love reading the notes,” says Soares-Robinson. “They’re so inspiring.”
To find a Vacation Bible Camp near you, see the calendar on the diocesan website.