Approach Bethany Christian Reformed Church in Bellflower, Calif., on weekday mornings this summer and you will see a swarm of kids shooting hoops, or designing experiments, or creating masterpieces. That is because this church has taken on a unique endeavor. They are offering six-week long, one-day-a-week, camps on weekday mornings for their community. This summer they are offering four camps (soccer, basketball, science, and art).
When the church began thinking about how to grow their summer internship program for college age students, they quickly realized they wanted those young leaders to be more than support staff for existing programs. Instead of working with just the middle and high school youth of the church, those interns could have a bigger influence in the community.
Youth pastor Andrew Nishimoto said, “One of our conversations had been about the effectiveness of VBS and whether we could do something that connected families more consistently with our church through the summer. From that conversation was born the idea to have the interns plan and lead a variety of camps throughout the summer.”
Volunteers and interns printed and delivered about 8,000 flyers to the nearby schools. Families sign up their kindergarten to sixth grade children online for any or all of the 90-minute day camps. Each camp is just $5 per camp per student for the six weeks. For the past two years, registration for the camps has reached capacity in just a few days, said Nishimoto.
Each camp is held one day a week with a week of VBS held right in the middle, with the hope that campers will attend that as well. The soccer and basketball camps are held on the campus of a local public school which has helped to further connections with that school and its families.
A highlight of this summer has also been the opportunity to connect with the parents of these students. Nishimoto said, “Pastor Tomás Ivens is currently planting a church on our campus (Ethnos Community Church) and has been partnering with us this summer to engage with the parents of the kids. His wife leads a class teaching the moms of the students the art of jewelry making and Tomás will be leading a parenting class the week of our VBS for all parents.”
There are six interns who lead the camps and then junior leaders are recruited from the middle and high school students at the church. “The intern program includes required reading and discipleship training as well, so they get a well-rounded experience,” said Deanne Grachen, office administrator at Bethany. Having the young people of the church step up to this leadership opportunity is definitely a highlight. Nishimoto said, “I have also loved seeing the young adults take over and run these programs so well. They are leading our church in our desire to love the lost and care for those in need and that is so exciting!”