VICENZA, Italy -- During a warm summertime, what is better than plunging into the sea to enjoy the view of its creatures?

This year, marine creatures like dolphins, corals and starfish were the colorful decorations for the annual Vacation Bible School, whose theme was "Shipwrecked: Rescued by Jesus."

Almost 140 children in the Vicenza Military community participated in a five-day experience at the Vicenza Elementary/Middle School multipurpose room June 25-29 thanks to the support of some 90 volunteers, including Soldiers, parents and teens.

Children from 5 to 11 years old, were divided into "crews" and they created crafts, learned songs and interacted with other participants throughout several stations such as Imagination Station; Bible Discovery; Tropical Treats; KidVid Cinema and ShipRec Games.

"Children started the morning with Castaway Sing and Play and then rotated through stations, where the message was the same, 'Jesus Rescues,'" said Julie Hicks, Protestant Religious Education coordinator. Hicks explained she began planning for this year's VBS in January alongside Paola Addison, Catholic Religious Education coordinator.

"We began meeting regularly with volunteers in February. It's been wonderful to work with so many talented people willing to give this generously of their time to make such an event possible. I take my hat off to every one of our VBS volunteers. None of this would have been possible without them. We're also thankful to the Red Cross for supplying us with volunteers and for all the Soldiers and our chaplains who assisted with VBS," Hicks continued.

According to Addison, who was fully involved as a VBS coordinator for the first time, responses from participants were all positive.

"Just after daily mass, a mom thanked me for the amazing time her son had during VBS week. She said he continues to ask her when he can go again," said Addison.

Volunteers were happy to hear that children got excited about the program after going into the multipurpose area and seeing all the decorations.

Last but not least, volunteers also planned snacks and an energetic, fun-filled day with outside activities.

Three brothers ranging in age from 4 to 8 years old were really enthusiastic.

Nolan Lockerbie, 8, really liked Tropical Treats, while his 6-year-old brother William said, "I liked when we made the boats and wound them up and they paddled in the water." Logan, the youngest brother, 4, said he loved "all the songs."

When asked during closing celebration, Lilyana Sampson, 5, said, "My favorite thing at VBS was Bible Discovery when we talked about The Lost Coin because they hid a lot of coins and we got to try and find them. My favorite song was when we sang 'My Light House.'"

According to U.S. Army Garrison Italy Chaplain (Maj.) Mark McCorkle, Family Life Chaplain, RSO, this year's VBS program touched many of the families in the Vicenza Military Community, and they said that "VBS is such a blessing."

"The families have also said that their children had the opportunity to learn about God and really enjoy the worship time of singing and arm movements to the songs.

"Patricia Shelton is the creative person who turned our area into a sea of beauty, 'Veramente Bello.'

Our heart is to please God and we all, as a community, worked to achieve a wonderful week for our young children that has created memories that will last a lifetime," he added.

McCorkle also mentioned Chaplain Steven Smith and his wife Susan who showed great leadership with this year's VBS.

"The training and teaching portions that were so successful is directly because of them leading and taking on responsibilities that were above and beyond the expectations," he said.

Amongst the volunteers, some were also participants' parents.

One of them was U.S. Army Africa Sgt. 1st Class Hawathar Jones, who works in DCSENG [the Engineer Cell of USARAF].

"I had two children participating in this year's program. My daughter Akeyla is a teen helper for the toddlers, and my son A'Jay was a participant in VBS," he said.

Jones has been here three years and is a deacon in the Gospel service.
"I volunteer for wherever they need me to be. I am usually one of the behind-the-scenes persons who helps with the audio and vision system, making sure everything is working correctly. At the Gospel service, Chaplain Smith, my pastor, asked me to play a role with him and I said 'okay.' He said to play the role of Jesus as he narrates the story of Jesus praying in the Olive Grove," he explained.

Jones highlighted that it was a humbling experience to see how the kids react to you when you play in certain roles.

"Seeing the smiles on their faces as they learn about Christ is so heartwarming. Hearing them just saying 'Jesus, Jesus' as I walk by. This will be something that they will remember for a long time," he added.
By tradition, at the end of each day, all participants and volunteers gathered at the multipurpose room for the Grand Finale.

"We are so thankful for all of the people who sacrificed their time and energy to spread the gospel to this community through VBS," said Nicole Stewart, volunteer and parent.

"I had three children participate and one volunteer this summer and it was such a blessing to listen to them singing the songs and sharing the Bible verses they were learning. We can't wait for next year's VBS."