JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - Laughter filled the air as dozens of children ran around the main post chapel on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., during the Wilderness Escape Vacation Bible School July 14-18.
Some children arrived with no idea of what they would be walking into. Others, like 10-year-old Aniah Baca, were bursting at the seams to dive into the festivities.
"The camp was tons of fun," exclaimed Aniah between stations. "I look forward to participating every year. I always make new friends every time I come here."
Aniah celebrated this year's theme, "Trek Back in Time," which is based on Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt.
"The event provides a history of Moses and crafts of the time to the children without preaching religion to them," said Linda Martinez-Greer, co-director of JBLM VBS. "The event was open to anyone who could enter JBLM, no matter the religion."
The children rotated through four stations allowing them to meet Moses and his wife, make crafts and play games oriented around the experiences of Moses and the Israelites. In addition to the stations, children were provided with an extra quest to collect five tags with a bible buddy and bible verse on it.
Along with the games and crafts, another popular station was the petting zoo, bringing a new animal in every day. Children saw a kangaroo, donkey, Shetland pony, emu and a camel.
Before ending each day, the children had snack time before participating in a song and dance session.
More than 240 children "Trekked Back in Time" to enjoy the festivities. The staff received aid from approximately 100 volunteers including parents, church members, veterans and Soldiers from JBLM.
Chaplain assistant Sgt. Michael Kuehne remembered attending VBS as a child and jumped at the opportunity to volunteer to help this year.
"All of the children are having a blast," said Kuehne, native of Spartanburg, South Carolina. "VBS was the highlight of my year when I was younger. It builds a foundation of resiliency in kids."
Volunteers increased the experience for the children by dressing in clothes resembling the time era. They ranged from age 12 to 84, each bringing a different level of experience and passion to the festivities.
"VBS has a history here," stated Martinez-Greer, native of Riverside, California. "I have been working with the vacation bible school since 1985. It is [brought all religions together] and the best way for new families who arrived to JBLM in the summer to get acquainted with other children and parents."
VBS is just one of the programs designed to build spiritual resilience in Soldiers, families and civilians enhancing their ability to manage the rigors and challenges of a demanding profession.
"This might be the first opportunity for children to build spiritual resiliency on post," Kuehne said. "The event builds the children's morale and motivates family conversation. This leads to families becoming motivated to get away from the television and spend time together outdoors."
According to Martinez-Greer, VBS is one of the spiritual programs that strengthen who people are in their faith as they help others.
"As a family life therapist, the families who have strong resiliency have a strong support foundation in religion or spiritual," she said. "This program encourages children to talk with their families about religion and gives them someone outside their family to talk religion with if they choose to."
During VBS, children also had the opportunity to help those in need by participating in Operation Kid-to-Kid. The program allows children and families to put a donation inside a balloon, which is then sent to India to help provide water to those in need. Over the course of the week, the children and families donated more than $1,200.
"Each kid put whatever they could inside the balloon, sometimes ranging from couple coins to dollar bills," Martinez-Greer said. "The children got to have fun and help someone across the world."
After the closing ceremony, the children hugged and made plans to spend time with their new friends and left with smiling faces eager to share what they learned from the escape.