Summer Schools & Camps Guide
Last year's Vacation Bible School at the Catholic Community of Pleasanton involved almost 1,000 youths and adult volunteers.
Vacation Bible School provides opportunity
to share the faith
Vacation Bible School is not a summer camp.
Michael Gallagher, who is in his 13th year as director of the Vacation Bible School at the Catholic Community of Pleasanton, sees it as so much more. "I think it's an opportunity for outreach, evangelization and community building," he said.
Gallagher said his wife encouraged him to become involved with the program more than a dozen years ago; a year later, he was the director.
It has grown from about 125 participants then to 650 last year, divided into morning and afternoon sessions. A few preschoolers attend; kids age out after fifth grade.
The CCOP Vacation Bible School, which runs for one week in June, draws children from the parish, the community at large and even some kids from out of the area who are spending their summer with their grandparents.
The fee is $60 per child; $150 per family maximum. No child is turned away for lack of funds.
They follow a program from Group Publishing, which collaborates with Our Sunday Visitor, the Indiana publishing house. As adapted in Pleasanton, there is a strong expression of Catholic Social Teaching as well as the embrace of the sacraments, Gallagher said.
The programs "bring a thematic approach to sharing God's love," he said. This summer's theme is "Weird Animals," with the tagline "Where Jesus' love is one-of-a-kind."
The hope is that students will see how unique they are. "We all have our gifts and talents, and how we can use them, no matter how big or small they are," he said.
Gallagher has high praise for the curriculum. "The music is phenomenal," he said. The summer's plan is outlined in curriculum materials. "Volunteers bring their talents," said Gallagher, describing the "elaborate endeavor" of transforming the parish hall to enhance the theme.
More than 100 parents volunteer in the Vacation Bible School, joined by 250 middle school and high school students. Some of the students who have enjoyed Vacation Bible School come back to help others have a good summer experience.
"It's a ministry that touches families, kids, the whole community," said Gallagher.
A typical session begins with a message and music, then the children rotate through a variety of stations. Creating characters is one of Gallagher's roles during the sessions. He estimates he's been through at least 300 costume changes in the last 13 years.
The week ends with a barbecue dinner and final celebration on last Friday evening. It's a can't-miss event, with more than 800 people attending.
The CCOP Vacation Bible School embraces a cause by raising money, in alternating years, for local and global charities. Last year, $20,000 was raised for Shepherd's Gate, a Livermore group that provides services and shelter to homeless and battered women and children.
This year, two global charities, both spearheaded by CCOP parishioners, will be the recipients. One is a school for children with HIV in India; the other supports high school and higher education for girls in Nicaragua.
CCOP Vacation Bible School has also funded 30 Vacation Bible Schools outside Bogota and Cartagena, Colombia. Locally, the parish group has helped support programs by providing decorations, and ordering supplies together to take advantage of discounts.
What keeps Gallagher coming back summer after summer? "I've witnessed families who come into RCIC (Rite of Christian Initiation for Children) and RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Children)," he said. "They are called to Christ, and want to be part of it," he said.
Also, the high school and kids in college who still come back to volunteer keep him motivated. As a catechist for the parish confirmation program, he has heard from young people that Vacation Bible School was important in the formation of their faith.
Among his volunteers are his wife, and their four children – ages 12 to 20.
Vacation Bible School would not be successful if it were not for an army of volunteers. Preparation begins in January, and campers are signing up now.
"We're so blessed with people who give their time and talent, and rally around this ministry." Gallagher said, noting that it is 100 percent volunteer effort.
"It's a positive, fun environment," he said. "The message is uplifting; their hearts are impacted.
"It's not summer camp," he said. "Their souls are impacted."
If Catholic Community of Pleasanton is an example of a well-attended Vacation Bible School – and there are many success stories throughout the diocese – St. Columba can be seen as a start-up.
Margaret Roncalli, the parish faith formation director, said it's been "quite a number of years since it's been done" at the Oakland parish.
At the request of some of the families, St. Columba is offering Vacation Bible School the week of June 23-27. It will be offered in association with a Kung Fu camp that is also held at the site, Roncalli said.
St. Columba will offer a program from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Vacation Bible School will be held in the mornings, with afternoons dedicated to other education endeavors. They might include field trips to see God in nature, in gardens, for example.
St. Columba will adopt the "Weird Animals" curriculum this summer, and looks forward to seeing some of its active youth volunteers helping out at Vacation Bible School. Roncalli said there's a plan to do some fundraising to pay the young volunteers "a little something."
The parish hopes to enroll 25 in Vacation Bible School. Cost of the program is $100, with scholarships available.
Roncalli is looking forward to the adventure. "Other places have been doing it for years," she said. "We're on the learning curve."
back to top