USAG Yongsan -- Vacation bible school (VBS) with the theme "Cave Quest" kicked off July 11, for five days at South Post Chapel, gathering more than 220 children and 93 volunteers.

"This is a commander's program. Not a Good Neighbor Program," explained Lt Col Young Kim, chaplain, U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan. Children range from rising kindergarten to rising sixth graders and come not only from all over Area II, but also the State Department.

Shari Evans is one of the volunteers who welcomes the children every morning. "Parents sign in their children when dropping them off for the program. They also have to sign every child out," she said. The children then proceed to the sanctuary, where they are welcomed by Kim. They sit among a sea of yellow "Cave Quest" T- shirts, while the volunteers wear orange tees. The children are divided into crews, and a crew leader is assigned to each.

The children then rotate through different classrooms containing different activities throughout the day. Parents drop off crying children at one of the stations. But at the end of the day, the kids also cry because they don't want to leave, said Brian Oh, Director of Religious Education. "Each station offers a different activity."

Program Director Darla Haynsworth has been involved with VBS at other garrisons. She was also a participant herself many years ago. She said it was a great way for kids to learn about being good people through Bible stories and experiential learning activities. Upon the conclusion of the program, many of the decorations and other material will recycled and used at other garrisons.

One of the classrooms depicts the biblical story of Apostle Peter walking on water, featuring a watery cornstarch mixture to simulate the scenario. The rooms are decorated with glow-in-the-dark stars and lamps for an effervescent effect designed to stimulate the imagination. There is also a game room, video room complete with smartphone app fobs that project 3-D images, and snack room.

"Kidvid shows four-minute videos based on animal characters," said volunteer Hope Bales. "Today's lesson will feature the moth 'Motha' and a story about courage."

Snacks include goldfish, gummy bears in a maize mix, and waffles. Every snack is somehow tied to a bible story or values-based behavior, said volunteer Gaylelee Schmitt.

There is also a science room, in which children will participate in simple science experiments, build stalagmites and study geodes and crystals. "Geodes are plain on the outside, but inside is this beautiful crystal -- just like each child," Lisa Dueringer said. Children also study substances called snottites, a slimy residue found dripping in caverns. All activities tie into the theme of "Cave Quest."

All adult volunteers underwent background checks before they could be allowed to work with children. They also received safety training and support from the Red Cross, enhancing their childcare capabilities. Brian Oh said they were preparing to do another volunteer training session in August. The robust volunteer force translates into more than 1,000 volunteer hours, he said. They allow what he humorously calls "one-stop worshipping," referring to the childcare program offered to the children of the volunteers. The nursery and preschool rooms are staffed by other volunteers and equipped with all of the necessities.

"Every year, we have seen a 10 percent increase in participation. VBS probably started around when this chapel was built in the 1980s," said Kim. But this year is probably the last year the program will see such a large turnout with transformation reducing the Yongsan population, he said.

Until then, however, the Religious Services Office has several new, large-scale events on the calendar, including a Patriot Day ceremony timed with the 15th anniversary of 9/11 and cultural programs for Soldiers and civilians. The traditional Thanksgiving luncheon will be the largest ever, combining K-16 and Yongsan. "We like to try things that have never been done before and continue to introduce new programs," said Kim. "We want to welcome newcomers and involve the community."