Courtney Martin and Tim Dombrowski didn't portray superheroes during Vacation Bible School in Odessa, but they were the brains and brawn behind an amazing week for nearly 100 children at St. Paul's United Methodist Church.
They also had to convince several others to put on costumes and capes to perform for children as part of the "superhero" theme for the program: "The Faithful Four."
For their Middletown High School senior project in the Class of 2014, Martin and Dombrowski created the curriculum and organized the volunteers for Vacation Bible School at St. Paul's Church, where they are both members.
The program was a partnership between St. Paul's and Tree of Life Evangelical Lutheran Church in Odessa.
Why did they pick this project?
"Tim and I really loved Vacation Bible School in the past with our church," said Martin. "We've both been involved with the program for years. When we were younger, we attended, and in the past three years, we've helped."
The project also reflected a pairing of their career goals.
Martin plans to major in education, and Dombrowski plans to go into the ministry.
"I love working at the church," said Dombrowski. "I love being a part of the church and as long as I can work with kids and help them grow in their faith with God and Jesus, I know I'm doing something good."
Usually for Vacation Bible School, the church orders a curriculum kit with a theme, lesson plans, music, and ideas for crafts and games.
Martin and Dombrowski wanted to create their own plan, and they spent about three months on the project.
"We worked with Pastor (Karin) Tunnell to make our own curriculum," said Martin. "We came up with the idea for 'The Faithful Four,' superheroes who have amazing ability to praise and worship God."
The students picked out the music from a website to accompany the lessons and created their own dance moves for each song.
"We made a video of us doing the dance moves so the kids can watch on a big screen and learn the moves," said Martin.
Bible school was held June 17-21 from 6 to 8 p.m. More than 90 children ages 2-11 registered, with an average attendance of about 70.
Each evening started with the daily song, announcements, and then dinner. That's right, Martin, Dombrowski, and a crew of volunteers made and served dinner to all the children each night.
"My mom and Tim's mom have been in charge of dinner," said Martin. "Our moms are so awesome. They've done so much for us with this project."
After dinner, the group gathered in the sanctuary for songs and dances.
Page 2 of 3 - Then each night a new superhero burst out of a telephone booth to give the daily Bible lesson.
On Monday, the superhero was "Wendy Worship." Tuesday was "Danny Devotion." "Caitlyn Compassion" was Wednesday's special hero, and then on Thursday, "Johnny Justice" took the stage.
Martin and Dombrowski asked members of the congregation to portray the superheroes and made the costumes for them.
St. Paul's Pastor Karin Tunnell and Tree of Life Pastor Timothy Lietzke dressed as superheroes, too, and performed skits with each night's special superhero to illustrate Biblical teachings.
"I'm most proud of the superhero skits because I, along with the pastors, wrote the scripts for that," said Dombrowski. "That was a lot of fun."
After the skit, the children were divided into groups and each group went to a different station: crafts, games, or science. The groups rotated to each station. At the end of the night, everyone met in the sanctuary for a review of the daily lesson, followed by a closing prayer.
Then on Friday, all four superheroes returned to participate in a mission project – blessings bags full of non-perishable food to be donated to the Freedom Center in Middletown which supports independent living for people with disabilities.
"On Monday for our craft we decorated containers to put in spare change, and students were asked to collect spare change during the week for the project," said Martin. "On Friday during craft time, we decorated the blessings bags to hold nonperishable ingredients for meals. The spare change went to pay for the ingredients like oatmeal, raisins, cereal, canned fruit, spaghetti and spaghetti sauce. The kids also made a card for each recipient, and we attached a prayer they can say before they eat their meal."
What was the most difficult part of the program?
"Definitely organizing everything," said Dombrowski. "We had to make sure the volunteers knew what to do, and we had to make sure the kids weren't just wandering around – that they knew where to go and what to expect."
Rain on the first night added to the challenge.
"With all the walk-ins, we were still registering children at 6:20, so the first thing we had to do was tell all the group leaders to cut about 10 minutes off the time at each station," he explained. "Then because of the rain we had to figure out a way to do the relay races indoors after planning them for outdoors."
Martin said not knowing exactly how many children to expect meant being flexible and adjusting plans at the last minute.
"Monday was a little chaotic," she said. "A lot of kids had pre-registered, but we had a lot of walk-ins. That first night, getting everyone organized in groups, that was a little difficult, but after that night, it's gone very smoothly."
Page 3 of 3 - The Rev. Tunnell said Vacation Bible School is always a special time, but this year has meant so much more, to have two students from the congregation step up and take on this responsibility.
"I was just overjoyed because they know the importance of a really faith-forming experience themselves," Tunnell said. "For them to want to not only participate but to use their gifts to plan the program and offer their gifts so other kids can experience God's love – it's amazing."
Tunnell said the program received rave reviews.
"It's been wonderful. The kids are having a great time," she said. "The adults are in awe of Courtney and Tim. I think their hope is rejuvenated in seeing the leadership of these young people. It affirms for our congregation our baptismal covenant to raise kids so they can bless others and serve others. That's what these two young people are doing and they're having fun doing it."
What have been the highlights of the nightly programs?
"I think the development of the theme overall, the superhero theme. That has been great in how it's manifested itself," said Tunnell. "The other great thing is partnering with Tree of Life Evangelical Lutheran Church. St. Paul's really believes in ecumenical approaches to community efforts and this program underscores that. And it's growing, because of Tim and Courtney's efforts."
All the children who attended Vacation Bible School during the week were invited to attend St. Paul's Church or Tree of Life Church on Sunday to sing the songs they had learned for the congregations.
"Ultimately, I'd love to see more youth come to our church," said Dombrowski. "I'd love to be able to build a bigger youth group."
Martin and Dombrowski thanked everyone who helped with the program and those who made donations.
"We are so blessed and so thankful for the parents and volunteers who made this happen," said Martin. "We had volunteers from 12 to their 70s who are helping out. We have people from all walks of life coming together. That's been the most amazing thing – everybody coming together as a church and a community and getting excited about God and worshipping God."
The students said they were happy to be able to give something back to the church family that has meant so much to them.
"This congregation sort of raised us," said Martin. "We've both been coming here since we were four or five years old, and we were both confirmed together. They helped make us who we are today, and we're both really blessed to be able to give back to the congregation in this way. Hopefully, we'll inspire other children to follow God."