“The counselors are the superheroes to the kids,” said Suzanna Edwards, director of children and family ministry at First United Methodist Church in Rolla.
Camp counselors from Phelps County recently took part in five full days of festive activities, adventures and helping children in learning about God at First United Methodist church’s first camp on location in the midst of Missouri University of Science and Technology’s campus.
The highly vetted and specially trained high school and college-age staff engaged in life-on-life ministry with every camper while providing lighthearted entertainment for the 6 to 12-year-olds attending the camp and for children who attend First UMC throughout the year.
All while following their core belief of bringing the community together, on top of maintaining a cheerful aura throughout the year for children at First UMC, according to the head counselor, Nate Sayed, track leader for the youth.
Sayed explained he became a counselor because he was able to be part of a team that wants to show campers the love of Christ, along with the affirmation that everyone who is part of the church is working towards the same goal – to connect the community and give the community alternative ways to celebrate each other and to come together.
“I saw the interest to continue to invest in the community by the church. Every year I see the communities grow. I see the same campers invested in their own growth with the Lord,” said Sayed.
While visiting the church’s first camp on location that ended on June 22, Sayed pointed out two girls sitting down directly in front of a back wall within the Family Lifestyle Preschool Building. The building was used for inside activities, which consisted of children running from activity to activity in glee, playing gaga ball and performing tricks on the monkey bars.
The carefree mood stretched throughout the preschool’s gym while noticeable regard for the children was highly present, made visible by the camp counselor caring about the young girl’s emotions by having what the ministry describes as “one on one.”
“In the ministry, we are all about life on life discipleship, so we promise parents that every single child gets met within a one on one setting throughout the year talking about life and talking about god,” said Sayed. “That is our core ministry right there.”
He added that in current times it’s especially helpful and awarding to converse with campers in person about life considering online communication has become prevalent, whereas talking in person benefits children, who are prone to speaking through social media as well as online gaming.
“Sometimes you talk for 15 minutes about Legos, and other times you talk about the deep issues in life,” said Sayed. “It reminds me of, ‘wow every day is a new thing,’ and in that it is fun.”
Walking outside an ample amount of the 115 children who attended the day camp bolted from the waterslide to Eurobungy and other outdoor activities “bouncing around like minefields.”
“One of the best parts is the counselors racing their campers. “It is a ton of fun because the kids love it,” said the director of children and family ministry, Edwards.
The camp was designed to be high-energy and very experiential with singing and dancing among numerous activities that aren’t typically included in a local vacation bible school experience, explained Edwards.
The counselors took the intention of the camp to heart by naming the equipment, such as the water slide and mini pool the slide descends in to. The waterslide was specially named Goliath, and the mini pool named David.
“The kids love it. They feel like they are conquering Goliath and then hanging out with David,” said Sayed, adding they created a theme for the camp allotting the children to think about what they treasure.
The authentic enthusiasm radiating from Sayed along with the other counselors showed their genuine care for the children.
The young adults were imaginative when creating a tailored theme that was fun and at the same time thought-provoking for the children. Josh Schaller, head of camping logistics, mentioned the animation for the idea was pirates pointing out a “tie die pirate” cascading down Goliath.
“Everyone is just kind of a kid who decided to give up their summer and spare time during the year for something bigger,” said Schaller.
The campers had free reign between First UMC’s building along with the Family Life Center Preschool’s gym with counselors always in reach putting together a karaoke match with Disney music or helping teach the youth life lessons with a quirky spin to keep the children’s’ attention.
One lesson, in particular, is serving the surrounding area, and the sentiment remains a forefront endeavor throughout the year, stated Edwards. “They are learning important skills at camp and throughout the year.”
“They all have cute names like the “wobbly plank walkers.” Each team gets a name they get to identify with, and all curriculums are structured for the particular age groups, so a child isn’t going to get bored because it is too easy for them,” said Edwards while wearing a bright pirate hat coordinating with the theme.
At the end of the day during the closing rally, the children pour coins into a big bucket where two large groups are competing. There are seven small groups this year, and each of those smaller groups is on a bigger team; the Seadogs and the Land Sharks in the coordination of this year’s theme.
The kids are raising money as part of a mission project. Each day they bring pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters and we are pooling the money together to buy a commercial washing machine for The Mission across the street from the church, said lead pastor of First UMC Rolla, Bill LaMora.
”Their goal is to raise enough money to buy one washing machine for them, and the counselors make it an enjoyable experience by making it into a large group game.”
Every year the children are brought together to get involved with a different project to help the community, he added, and the counselors are there to aid whenever necessary in helping care for the children and in “bringing this community together and creating relationships with the community.”
It teaches them service hood and taking care of one another, said LaMora, who expressed joy with his gleaming smile.
As our visit winded down, Edwards exclaimed, “The minute they spot one another they know they are welcome. The staff is excited that they are here, and we are planning on having a good time, and we are planning on having a fun day.
“The counselors set that expectation from the minute that child steps out of that car, and it goes all day long.”