CLIFFORD– Regular school may be finished for most area students, but Vacation Bible School (VBS) will keep things going just a bit longer. Held June 24-28 at the Clifford United Methodist Church (UMC) on Main Street, many youth might not opt to spend another week at ‘school.’ But considering this well-attended VBS has been running for more than 50 years, kids and adults alike really enjoy it. In fact, countless regulars call it “the best week of the Summer!”

“I’ve been attending VBS for the last 10 years,” said Kylie Barhite. “I’ve met so many new people and made new friends too. It’s way more fun than regular school!”

“Having this week of fun and fellowship is great,” added Charlize Barhite. “With all the kids who attend VBS, the energy is great … singing and dancing, playing, learning about new people in faraway places. It’s an awesome experience.”

“Other VBS directors have run the weeklong event through the years, and this is my eighth year as its coordinator,” said Dane Barhite (21), who has attended VBS since he was a toddler. “Considering how the program has continually grown over time, it’s truly amazing to see that we’ve had upwards of 100 kids attending our VBS for the last few years. Word gets around … one kid tells a friend or two, grandkids and cousins visiting local family can’t wait to spend time with us, and before you know it, we have this huge participation of kids aged 4 (potty trained) to 12/13 (those exiting sixth grade). It’s really wonderful!”

With a varying themed curriculum each year, this year’s program is called ‘ROAR – Life is Wild. God is good.’ “From 1:00pm to 4:45pm, Monday through Friday, everyone will become immersed in a great African adventure that engages everyone who’s involved,” said Barhite. “Throughout the week, the kids will explore God’s goodness and celebrate a ferocious faith that powers them through this wild life.”

As Barhite explained, “The program incorporates theme-based music and science, many of the Bible’s wonderful stories from both the Old and New Testaments, age-geared crafts and indoor and outdoor games, snacks, and a special kid-vid cinema, which this year features the lives of five African kids who are much like those attending VBS. Every afternoon, the VBS staff of nearly 50 adults and older crew-leader youth – each of whom has gone through the requisite background checks, so we operate in a totally safe and secure environment -- will engage everyone who’s involved so no one is left out. Each day is filled with enlightening and exciting discoveries through the imagination stations and high-energy activities that are all theme related.

“VBS is a faith-based program,” he continued, “but it’s not defined by any one particular religion. It’s a great time of socialization that also becomes a very teachable time … for some of the kids, this week might present the only God lessons they learn. So, everyone is invited and welcomed to attend, as we want as many boys and girls as possible to share and experience the total fun we’ll all have again this year.”

To more realistically create this year’s VBS theme, the church sanctuary will be transformed through decorations, paintings, posters, and more. “The week prior to VBS, we’ll turn the church into a veritable African savanna,” laughed Barhite. “It will all add to the fun and realism of the program that will carry forward during the week. And on the closing Friday afternoon, we’ll hold a reception for the kids’ families and friends so they, too, can gain a real sense of what everyone has experienced. Every VBS attendee will also receive a music CD, a DVD, and a tie-dyed shirt they’ve made during the week. It’s an awesome adventure-filled time for sure!”

While director Barhite expressed that he really “loves VBS,” planning for each year’s program is an ongoing process. “During each summer’s program, the staff and I are often thinking of things to do or change for the next year. We might tweak something with registration or the age groupings of a class group or two, and in the coming months we’ll begin researching the next year’s theme. And we definitely begin making plans for fundraising.”

Considering VBS costs nearly $4k to operate and participant cost is entirely FREE, Barhite and his volunteer staff work diligently year-round to raise monies that are designated solely for the next summer’s VBS program. “Part of what makes our program unique is that people have come to know us through the years, so we have a wide-spread network that helps keep us going.

“VBS relies on donations and specific fundraising through our youth-run annual holiday cookie walk and periodic bake sales, car washes, food sales at local events like the recent spring plant exchange, and more. After all these years, people know us, so it’s not surprising to also receive in-kind donations of things like decorations, VBS-themed snacks, blank T-shirts, and CDs. It’s a lot of work and involves considerable coordination, but the church adults and the youth themselves are behind VBS one hundred percent. And it’s really each and every one of them who makes VBS such a hugely successful and ongoing favorite summer event.”

Pre-registration will be held on Sunday, June 23rd, from 3:00pm-6:00pm, at the Clifford UMC; or visit www.cliffordumc.org, click the VBS link, and complete the registration. Check-in and last-minute registration will be held at Noon on Monday, June 24th. For additional information, contact director Barhite at danebarhite@gmail.com, or call 570-222-5493.