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St. Benilde Bible campers row down the bayou with St. Paul

“Orange Turtles,” “Purple Fireflies,” “Lime Shrimp,” “White Crawfish,” “Red Raccoons,” “Blue Possums,” “Yellow Pelicans” and “Lavender Butterflies” frolicked together for a week at the 2013 St. Benilde Vacation Bible School July 2-5.
“We learn about God,” said Paige Restel, 9, an incoming fourth grader at St. Benilde as she constructed a picture frame and paper chains and colored a picture of St. Paul in jail with his friend Silas. “I like the time we do crafts.”
    Every day during “Bible Down the Bayou,” campers heard a different Scripture story, assembled a craft, sang religious songs and played games to reinforce God’s love and caring for his people, Vacation Bible School director Anita Delaup said.
VBS highly successful
   Wanting children to learn more about their faith in a relaxed atmosphere, a core team of seven St. Benilde parishioners re-energized the parish’s Vacation Bible School in 2009. Delaup, her daughter Danielle, Denice Ott, Cherri Pitre, Leslie Killian, Lisa Restel and Leigh Whitman were the initiators and remain active with the help of 20 adults and 32 teen volunteers whom Delaup sees as the future leaders of the camp.
    “Our core group has great ideas as do the younger volunteers who help us,” Delaup said.
    Whitman, a former St. Benilde student, designed the inaugural T-shirt logo that’s still used every summer so parents don’t have to buy a new one.
    “The camp continues the mindset of Jesus in the summer in everything they do,” Whitman said.  “We keep the faith at a basic level for all age groups. They learn about Jesus in a laid-back way and a relaxing environment.”
    To keep the camp fresh, organizers change the annual theme. The 2013 theme, “Athens: Paul’s Dangerous Journey to Share the Truth,” was culled from Group Publishing’s Vacation Bible School lesson plan.
    By alternating themes and activities, the week-long camp has grown from approximately 60 children that first summer to reaching a maximum of 120 children  throughout the archdiocese, Delaup said. A generous donor provided scholarships to cover the $25 fee for several campers this year.
    Added elements of camp that reinforce Jesus’ message of love to others is a service project based on parish need and “God Sightings.” This year, campers brought it nonperishables for the parish food pantry.
    When a camper witnessed an act of kindness by another camper or sees something that reflected God, this “God Sighting” was displayed on a poster board in the snack room for all to see. Campers also established prayer partners.
Something for young, old
    A noticeable spike in attendance among sixth and seventh graders this year prompted Delaup to devise a more flexible schedule for these 15 “senior” campers. They also completed a separate service project that in the past has included cleaning out the parish office and re-striping the basketball court, and assisted with the concluding Bible school Mass.
    “We want to keep them coming back,” Delaup said, adding how former campers return to help.
    St. Benilde’s new pastor, Father Robert Cooper, spent time with and blessed campers during his first week in the parish. He sees the Bible school as an excellent vehicle for children to grow in their faith in a fun atmosphere.
    “It gives them an opportunity to share in the fun and friendship and be part of the parish family,” he said. “It builds on the faith that they receive during the school year through Catholic school or a parish religion program. To experience God and his love and providence in an atmosphere that allows them to grow and flourish. And, Anita and the volunteers do a great job.”
    Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarion
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