This past year inspired many catechetical leaders to use their creativity to reach out in new ways to parishioners. One success story is Laura Soldner’s summer event, Saints and S’mores. Laura is the Coordinator of Family Formation (K–6) at Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Parish in Monona, WI. She shares about the program in the following interview.
Denise Gorss for Catechist’s Journey: What is Saints and S’mores?
Laura Soldner: Saints and S’mores is a drop-in summer program that we’re offering at our parish for the first time this year. The program consists of six sessions that are each an hour in length. They are geared toward children ages five to ten years old, but we’ve had kids as old as 14 attend! Children can come to one session or all the sessions. There is no sign-up, as we wanted parents to feel as though they could just come on short notice or not feel bad about missing if their schedule changed at the last minute. Sessions are held on the back lawn of our parish, with the parish basement as a backup plan in case of inclement weather. Each session focuses on a summer saint; some weeks we focus on one saint, whereas other weeks we focus on two or three saints.
Each time we meet, the activities center on the saint(s) we are featuring. For instance, our first session featured St. John the Baptist. We read a story about his birth to Zechariah and Elizabeth and then discussed his time in the wilderness, his role as a prophet, the baptism of Jesus, and John the Baptist’s eventual death by beheading. We read the actual Bible passages as much as possible and use visuals, which include a picture of the saint, and in this case, a map of the Jordan River area, to show where John the Baptist’s ministry took place. We also discuss how we can be like the featured saint or saints.
Our activities for the first session centered on water, which gave us more chances to discuss Baptism! We kept everything simple and used water balloons for two relay games. After our snack break of s’mores, one of our adult helpers led the Rosary. (We started with one decade.) It was really interesting to see how much the children enjoyed this part. Many children asked if they could keep the rosary they prayed with! We finished the session with a water balloon fight, which was very popular, especially as the adult leaders got soaked!
DG: What inspired the idea?
LS: We wanted a program that focused on community-building for the children and one that was laid-back for the summer. We didn’t want the program to feel like summer school or summer religious education classes. Our goal was to have a program in which the children could gather, learn about some aspect of our Catholic faith, have prayer time, and play together. We also didn’t have a large budget to work with, nor did we want something like a VBS program that would be just one week out of the summer. We wanted something spread throughout the summer months, so that if a family was on vacation, they could still attend some of the other sessions.
DG: How did families respond to the event?
LS: The response from families has been wonderful! Each week we gain more and more children, to the point we’ve had to add helpers. Parents have said they like the laid-back approach and that they don’t have to commit to every session. They especially like that the children have time to just play and run around with each other. We’ve had people, including grandparents, ask if they can help out at the sessions and if we need anything for the sessions. After a year of COVID restrictions, it’s nice to see parents gather in the parking lot and talk to each other while the children are playing and having fun. Our sessions are scheduled on the night we have Eucharistic Adoration, so some parents have also taken advantage of that and gone into church to spend time with Jesus in Adoration. Since we’re having Saints and S’mores outside, it’s also nice to see neighbors looking from their yards to see what we’re doing. It’s as if the church community is alive again!
DG: What advice do you have for a parish wanting to offer Saints and S’mores to its community?
LS: Make sure you have enough helpers! We did not know what to expect for our first session. Would we have five kids or 20? We make sure to have people on standby, just in case we get more kids than anticipated.
Also make sure to utilize the teens at your parish. The children love having the older kids help. And the teens are awesome helpers!
We’d also advise parishes to focus on the fellowship and community aspect of the gathering and to keep a balance between learning about the saints and just having unstructured time for the children to play.
DG: Thank you, Laura, for sharing Saints and S’mores with us!
Do you have a success story from the summer? Share it in the comments below.