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North Naples’ summer program teaches children service

North Naples’ summer program teaches children service

Children wash a car during a "Serve Your World Camp" at North Naples United Methodist Church.

What will your church’s children be learning while school is out this summer?

For probably most of our churches, there will be a week of Vacation Bible School (VBS). It will be filled with music, games, snacks and typical childhood activities.

But at North Naples UMC, the emphasis will be different.

“Four years ago, we decided to try something new,” Director of Children’s Ministries Marlene Foord said. “We were growing tired of VBS because we had done it so long and we could see that most of the churches around us were on the same VBS circuit. Everybody was offering the same curriculum and using cookie-cutter materials from the same company.

Children prepare to place a plant in the ground as they refurbish the landscaping at North Naples UMC during Serve Your World Camp.

“At that time, our church was trying to re-define our discipleship process. We came up with the idea that no one is ever too young to serve. So, we wrote our own curriculum and created ‘Serve Your World Camp.’”

The camp is designed for children who have completed kindergarten through fourth grade. Attendees come for a half day and leave with a sense that they are making a difference. Last year 48 campers logged 288 hours of service.

The teachers are so pleased with the feedback from parents and the local community that they have written a “how to” guidebook, which instructs other churches on how to create a similar program.

The guidebook and virtually everything you need to start a Serve Your World Camp is available by clicking here.

The curriculum is structured so that over five days campers complete service projects that are geared toward:

  • helping others,
  • helping God,
  • helping neighbors and
  • helping those who serve.

“We begin by inviting the children and their parents to pick their favorite charity,” Foord said. “Then, with help from our art department, they create a painting or some other artistic item that can be placed in an online art auction in which family and friends can bid. The bidding takes place throughout the week.

“Last year we were able to raise nearly $3,000 for 23 separate not-for-profit charities.”

Every camper’s family receives a take-home outline of activities for the week so that parents will be able to talk to their children about what they are doing and learning at camp. The take-home piece also notifies parents what they should send with their child each day.

In the “service to God” category, the children are involved in such projects as landscaping the church campus, cleaning playground equipment, picking up trash or straightening up pew racks.

Alex Saxs packs up food supplies.

To help “those who serve,” children have met with local veterans to learn about what they have done to protect and serve our nation. Then, they have collected and packed boxes of food and written letters of encouragement to U. S. service members in Iraq.

According to Foord, the projects can be as simple as washing cars and emergency equipment for the Collier County Sheriff’s Department or helping restock local hurricane shelters with items for children and pets.

One of the highlights for campers came in 2017 when the Sheriff’s Department landed its emergency helicopter on the church campus while youngsters were pitching in to clean the department’s vehicles.

Children saw the helicopter up close and learned how it helps people.

Every year, the Children’s Department sets a theme for Serve Your World Camp.

“We base it on scripture,” Foord said. “And we select songs for our worship time with the church praise band.”

“One year we used Isiah 60:22 and a song called “Dream Small.” We wanted the children to learn that even small dreams can become big ones with hard work and the blessings of God.”The daily agenda includes worship and small group time. Children are invited to brainstorm how they can help others as part of their small group activities.

On the fifth day, parents are invited to join their children at Serve Your World Camp. In addition to seeing the service projects completed during the week are encouraged to make service a family habit throughout the year.

This year the church will be adding a second week of camp to the popular program. It will be for children who have completed grades three and four and will include off-campus trips.

“This group will be smaller,” Foord said, “because we require adult and youth counselors to accompany them. Our counselor to student ratio is typically one counselor for every two campers.”

The camp always has a waiting list.

“We delight in teaching children that Christ calls us all to serve,” Foord said. “We believe this experience contributes greatly to the spiritual formation of our young children and can be a building block to life-long Christian discipleship.”

Camping sessions for 2019 will be held June 17-21 (K-4) and July 8-12 (grades 3-4).

—Suzanne McGovern is a freelance writer based in Orlando.