SHIRLEY, Ind. — There are few better ways to fill 40 kids with spirit — holy or otherwise — than by chumming the room with chocolate chip cookies and Rice Krispie treats.
Snack time was a hit Tuesday at a multichurch cooperative vacation Bible school in Shirley, organized to give kids in eastern Hancock and western Henry counties a wholesome outlet during this year’s school fall break.
“We weren’t sure what to expect,” said Josh Johnson, pastor at Grant City Wesleyan Church, one of the VBS sponsors. “It’s the first time we’ve tried this for fall break, and we’re very happy.”
Given that Main Street is the Hancock/Henry county line, bisecting Shirley and its school-age population between several schools and two district school calendars, organizers split the difference this year and picked the one week the fall breaks overlapped for the three-day event.
“Some of the kids that are here tonight won’t be here tomorrow night because of school and (athletic) tournaments, so we won’t know exactly who’s coming each night,” Johnson told the Daily Reporter.
Not that it matters all that much.
With a goal of playing host to 35 kids ranging from pre-school to sixth grade, leaders and volunteers were all smiles Tuesday with more than 40 for opening night.
With a bevy of volunteer staff from five area churches wearing neon green T-shirts running containment, kids above pre-school level were herded from a free meal to music and through crafts, games, Bible study and back to a musical finale during the two-hour session that continued Wednesday and concludes today at Shirley-Wilkinson Community United Methodist Church.
Between those attending and those running the event, it appeared the greater part of Shirley was in or around the VBS epicenter at the corner of South and White streets on Tuesday evening.
“I think we have as many volunteers as kids tonight,” said Amy Schaeizle of the Shirley-Wilkinson church. “It’s a bigger group than I thought.”
With summer vacation pared short by the school districts’ balanced calendar, summer Bible schools were squeezed, and some just couldn’t get off the ground quickly enough this year.
The tight summer schedule and cooler temperatures of October made fall break prime pickings to schedule some VBS time.
“It’s an awesome idea,” said Kennard resident Rudi Hanna. “I’m glad they did it, and I hope we do it again next year. It gives the kids something to do over the break and gets them out.”
“A free meal never hurts, either,” Johnson said. “Especially when in some cases the main meal comes at school. It helps out.”
Refueled and ready after Tuesday’s 10-minute snack break, the school crowd dove into Genesis 1:3 to discuss “the light,” the literal and figurative theme over the three days. The participants flitted about under a dimming October sky for outdoor games and pressed autumn leaves into salt dough for leaf imprints, which, to first-grader Bea Griffith’s mind, was entirely appropriate as she was on fall break.
“That’s why we’re making leaves, because it’s fall,” she said.
While the kids were learning, doing and playing with other kids they may or may not go to school with – even though many live in the same town – the event gave church members from varying backgrounds a chance to get together as well.
“It’s a wonderful testimony to all communities to see all the churches working together,” said Jim Jackson, a lifelong Shirley resident, pastor of Shirley Friends Church and president of the local Ministerial Alliance.
Whether the group will hold VBS during next year’s fall break will be decided after organizers debrief the 2013 edition, but based on initial impressions, the future looks positive, they say.
In addition to drawing kids and families from Shirley, Wilkinson, Kennard and all the open farmland in between, this VBS even brought a few out-of-towners from Greenfield.
Jackie Cecil of Greenfield had little choice other than to pack her 3- and 6-year-old grandchildren into the car and make the drive to Shirley after mentioning the school.
“I read it in the paper, and they both got really excited about it,” Cecil said. “They even willingly took naps today to be ready for it.”