In which I visit Vacation Bible School at The Vineyard

When I was a kid, one of the the coolest things about summer vacation was taking part in the annual “Playground Program.”

Some of my happiest childhood memories are associated with these daily trips to the Stourbridge and Lincoln schools.

These were safe places where you could while away the sun-soaked days playing baseball, doing arts & crafts or just horsing around with the other kids.

In fact, it was on the playgrounds of Honesdale that I had my first real individual experiences, far removed from the protective cocoon of my friends and family.

I learned about winning and losing under the watchful eyes of local legends like Laverne “Gov” Thornton, Earl Wilson, Allen “Butch” Keller and Rich “Chooch” Chulada.

I also began to understand concepts such as teamwork and sportsmanship. I saw the necessity of rules; I started to comprehend the value of honesty and fair play.

In short, I began the long process of growing up.

Undefeated

These happy memories came bubbling to the surface Thursday afternoon while paying a visit to The Vineyard Center just outside Honesdale.

Earlier in the week, I'd received an invitation from Jacqui Barna to drop by and check out their 2017 Vacation Bible School.

Now, the First Presbyterian Church has been hosting Vacation Bible Schools for many years. However, since they've embraced a new thematic approach and early-June dates, its popularity has skyrocketed.

And so, when I arrived on the scene for “Undefeated,” I was pleasantly surprised to be engulfed by a sea of smiling, giggling children.

At its heart was Reverend Michael Lyle.

“We had about 70 kids last year and that was very encouraging,” Pastor Lyle said. “This year, though, we have more than 150 and that's just amazing.”

The local church leader was also able to lend some practical experience to the endeavor as he's been a volunteer high school hoops coach at Honesdale for several years now.

“We just want the kids to have fun,” he said with a smile. “But, I think the most important thing to take away from this is that we're trying to plant the seeds of Christ in their hearts.”

The Bigger Picture

Lindsey Pender is the Vacation Bible School organizer.

You may recognize the name as she's the Honesdale cross country coach … an indefatigable woman whose latest team is the reigning District Two Class AA champion.

Lindsey is one of most competitive people I've ever met in my travels as TWI Sports Editor. However, her focus here at “Undefeated” is clearly on the message, not wins and losses.

“The entire program is centered around Christ,” she said. “God's love has certainly been evident in the lives of our 70 volunteers and 150 children and their families.”

Lindsey raved about all the cooperation she's received from the school district, the church's youth group and adult volunteers.

“It's just been a wonderful experience all around,” she said. “It takes a lot of work to make this happen, but it's definitely worth it.”

So Much Fun

This year's edition of the event ran from Tuesday to Friday with an “overtime” session on Sunday.

Children arrive at The Vineyard Center at 3 p.m. They pour out of the school buses and surge through the main entrance. Each child runs through a specially-made archway into the gym.

Two lines of cheerleaders welcome them with pom-poms and synchronized shouts. Upbeat music is pumping, lights are pulsing and artificial smoke swirls around their heads.

Youth Director Andy Wood is waiting for them, shouting happily into his wireless microphone. The kids sprint toward the stage and eventually settle down on the hardwood floor.

Once everyone has arrived, Andy explains to the crowd what will be happening on this particular day. Once those instructions are delivered, the kids break up into groups of 10-12.

From there, they head out into the sunshine and start rotating through different stations. There are all kinds of games that stress fun, cooperation and teamwork.

My personal favorite was a hybrid Wiffleball game.

All players on every team get a chance to bat during each inning. An adult volunteer pitches the ball and the camper hits it. They then run the bases, but encounter obstacles along the way.

At first base is a mischievous volunteer armed with a super soaker. There's another with a hose at second and yet another with giant sopping sponges at third.

The best part, though, is the sprint to the plate, which ends with happy, squealing, aquatic acrobatics on a giant slip-n-slide.

Groups rotate in and out of these “huddles” at 20-25 minute intervals, so no one has any chance of becoming bored. There is also a snack station where each child can relax and re-charge his/her batteries.

So much fun packed into a two-hour time slot!

Continuing Tradition

We're living in uncertain times, folks … no question about it.

It pains me to admit that I'm AARP-eligible now and spend a great deal of time worrying about the world my grandchildren will inherit.

However, I walked away from this week's “Wanderings” column with a huge smile and renewed hope for the future.

Watching thoughtful, dedicated people like Michael Lyle, Jacqui Barna, Lindsey Pender and Andy Wood work so enthusiastically with our kids did my heart good.

It conjured wonderful memories of my own childhood, along with the men and women who gently shepherded my generation toward adulthood.

So, here's a tip of my new Mets hat to all the folks from First Presbyterian and The Vineyard Center who made this year's Vacation Bible School possible.

In my mind, every one of you is “undefeated.”