Caitlin Mignano is OK with starting her summer vacation in a classroom. The 15-year-old is having too much fun to say no to volunteering at the Vacation Bible School at St. Patrick’s parish in Highland Mills.
The rising junior at Monroe-Woodbury High School was one of 145 teen volunteers and 68 adult volunteers working with the 210 students June 26-30. Like many of the teen volunteers, she was once a student at the Vacation Bible School.
“I keep coming every year because I love doing it,’’ said Caitlin, a parishioner at St. Patrick’s. “At my high school, I’m a part of our preschool program called Little Miracles. I love being able to teach little kids, whether it’s church or school related.
“(Vacation Bible School) is a great way to have fun with your friends and you’re doing something to give back to the community.”
She performed a skit of “Rich Man, Poor Man” June 29 with Peter Herron, 15, and Rohan Daley, 16, who also were students at the Vacation Bible School before becoming volunteers. Peter was born and raised in New Jersey, and Rohan now lives in Florida but returns each year to volunteer.
“I was promised one week of VBS when we moved, so they’ve been held to this promise because I just love it,” Rohan said.
Peter added, “I love the energy all the campers bring and how (co-directors) Theresa Weissburg and Pat Murray designed the camp with all the different activities. I love being here so much and being with the kids. It drives me to come here and teach them music.”
The Highland Mills United Methodist Church started the school, and Father Gerard Travers, pastor of St. Patrick’s from 1993 to 2013, drove past the church on hot days and saw students outside. When St. Patrick’s completed construction of an air-conditioned gymnasium, Father Travers offered the gymnasium and religious education classrooms to the neighboring church for its school in 2002.
The Methodist church continued operating the school for a few years before St. Patrick’s parish began overseeing the program.
“It makes religion a joy instead of a burden,” said Father Travers, now retired and residing at Holy Family in New Rochelle. “There is an excitement here you can feel in everything, particularly in the way this is structured with exercise, lessons, music and skits. It’s all fun.”
This year, 18 churches of several faiths were represented at the school, which ran from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. for five days. The students participated in activities like recreation, games, music, crafts and class, and students went home each day with a two-page newsletter. Each day has a theme.
“Putting teens and children in a classroom for the day after they just finished school would not be effective,’’ Ms. Weissburg said. “We found a proper mix of physical activities, educational activities, and, of course, we feed them, because a well-fed child is a happy child and can concentrate.
“Our adult volunteers have worked very hard to create an environment to make the teens feel they’re needed. No one wants to volunteer and stand around. We have adults in every classroom to mentor the teens who are teaching the lesson.”
The Vacation Bible School also collected school supplies and money for school supplies for its community project. This year, Monroe Temple and Results Driven Fitness also joined in the collection. The school supplies will be given to students in the Monroe-Woodbury school district.
The teen volunteers asked to have a volleyball tournament one day after school as a fund-raiser. Each participant and spectator is donating $2 toward the purchase of school supplies.
“I thought they were exaggerating when they told me how wonderful it is,’’ said Father Joe Tyrrell, administrator of St. Patrick’s for the past year.
“There isn’t enough money to buy this kind of goodwill, devotion and commitment. It’s incredible. On a personal level, it’s just fun. It’s joyful. It’s a celebration to see this many people excited.”