Every summer, our parish hosts a Vacation Bible School program, a week-long camp that features Bible stories, craft projects, music lessons, games, and snack time. In years past, this program brought in about fifteen children, with thirty counselors to assist throughout the week. It has always been an incredibly small program that demanded a great deal of work, and had the potential to be very costly had it not been for the overwhelming generosity of some of our parishioners. It’s a demanding program, but I’ve always considered it to be completely worthwhile.
Even though our VBS campers are small in number, seeing their enthusiasm has always brought joy to my heart. Even though our budget is tight and our space is limited, we were still able to transform our parish hall into a mighty fortress where our campers could pretend to be knights, princes and princesses, kings and queens. Even though we’ve always had significantly more counselors than campers, seeing the counselors at work, seeing them enthusiastically playing Duck-Duck-Goose with the little ones or Apples to Apples with the older campers, or joining together for Daily Mass in the morning, or watching them grow in responsibility and maturity before your eyes, has always been the highlight of my week. For all its challenges and demands, VBS has always been a wonderful experience for me.
VBS has always been a worthwhile endeavor for me, and because of that, suggestions and efforts to expand our program have always been accepted with pleasure. This year, we successfully doubled our numbers (still leaving us with a very humble 25 campers) by making three minor changes to our Vacation Bible School program.
First, we sent out postcards to all Religious Ed families, as well as those who have children enrolled in our inter-parochial Catholic grammar school. We settled on our dates several months before our program began, and rather than just sending an email to inform families to save the dates, this year we went one step further. For a nominal fee, I ordered postcards with the dates and times for our program printed on them. They were bright and definitely eye-catching, so I hoped that some families would post them on their refrigerators until registration forms became available. In addition, this was an easy way to reach the Catholic school families, for whom I had addresses, but not emails. In response to this change, we gained a handful of Catholic school families (as well as relatives and friends).
Second, we offered before- and after-care for the first time this summer, free of charge (a detail I might reconsider next year). The hours of our program had been a recurring issue for families where both parents worked, so this year we decided to offer an hour of before-care every morning, and an hour and a half of after-care every afternoon. Counselors, accompanied by those campers enrolled in our before-care program, attended daily Mass every morning, and ate lunch with the children in the after-care program every afternoon. The counselors were thrilled to earn extra service hours for their time, and I was already working those hours to do prep work anyway. The only major adjustment that needed to be made to accommodate this change was asking that each adult volunteer agree to one afternoon assisting me with after-care. It didn’t require much additional work on my part, the counselors benefited by receiving extra service hours, and I suspect that we had at least a few campers who wouldn’t have been able to attend VBS had it not been for this change.
Finally, I included flyers in the parish bulletin. Honestly, I didn’t think that this particular change was going to make that much of a difference. I suspected that many of my families did not read the bulletin regularly; in fact, I imagine that some of my families don’t even attend Mass when there’s no CCD (or even when there is). I didn’t think this would be a huge help, but it didn’t take much at all to include flyers in the bulletin for two weeks. In reality, I know of at least a few campers who attended VBS because of this minor change, but it did not happen the way that I assumed it would. It wasn’t parents who took advantage of the convenient registration method (they could fill out the form, and drop it in the collection basket, with or without a check); it was grandparents. Rather than parents registering their children, I had grandparents registering their grandchildren. I guess I still should never underestimate the power of the parish bulletin, or the power of grandparents.
So there you go. If you’re looking to improve numbers, or just draw in a few more campers with minimal work, here are three minor changes that can make a major difference in your Vacation Bible School program. They certainly worked for me!
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!