A Week Full of STARS
Writer / Kris Parker
Photographer / Forrest Mellott
Summer is often a time when high school students find a job, go on vacation or kick back and relax. Others might take advantage of the opportunity to get ahead in their schoolwork. But for some teens at New Hope Church, they chose to utilize a portion of their summers to run the STARS Day Camp located on church grounds.
During the school year, STARS (Striving to Always Reflect the Son) is an after-school tutoring and mentoring program located within the walls of New Hope Church. Launched in 1999, its mission is to reach elementary school students and their families with the love of Christ by offering free tutoring.
The STARS Day Camp, birthed out of the idea of serving the same children and families, is directed by the High School Ministry. “It just made sense. Our church served these kids during the year, and summer would be a great time to connect with them and continue to pour into them and their families,” said Andrea Fisher, the director of high school ministry. “I really believe that God’s mission begins at home. Our high school students need to understand that God has placed them in our community to be a light for Him where they already are.”
In June 2009, a team of 20 high school students and three adults led the first STARS Day Camp for about 35 kids from families in the STARS tutoring program. Since that time, the program has tripled its size and extended its reach to include children who participate in ministries connected to New Hope. While still incorporating STARS tutoring families, they have added families who participate in the ministry at Center Grove Estates as well as those connected to Children of Hope Preschool and Grove Volley. New Hope Church families were also invited and encouraged to invite others who do not attend church.
The mission for STARS Day Camp is simple: reach out to children and their families to show Jesus’ great love for them and share His message of salvation for all who believe in Him. To achieve this, the ministry provides a positive, caring and affordable camp for the children.
The campers are given the opportunity to participate in fun, encouraging and enriching activities. Throughout the week, the teens unashamedly share the Good News about Jesus Christ. “But regardless of the beliefs of the children and families we serve, what kids hear is a very positive message: they are loved, they are valuable, they have a purpose and they can serve others too,” said Fisher.
In addition to hearing the Gospel message, campers participate in other educational activities such as learning to cook, exploring nature and doing science and art projects. They also swim, fish and play large group games.
The day camp is also a chance for younger kids to connect with teens who can be positive role models for them. “I often hear that when our teens see the campers out in the community, the campers are so excited to see them, and our teens feel the same way about seeing the campers!” Fisher explained.
“From what I hear from parents and volunteers who work with the campers throughout the remainder of the year, STARS Day Camp makes a difference in the children’s lives. The love and care they receive from the teen leaders changes them. They learn they are loved by God and by others, they are valued and have purpose, and no matter what life throws at them, God is with them always. … The Church is here to support and encourage them.”
LaShon Wagner has three children who have attended STARS Day Camp for five years and is sold on its benefits. “STARS is more than your typical Bible school camp. The kids learn Bible stories, songs and Scripture verses, but they also see young people, not much older than themselves, living out the life Jesus calls us to live,” she said.
“The campers experience the love of Jesus through the teens that sacrifice a week of their summer to pour love into our children. They laugh with them, play with them, give them good advice and put into action what they’re teaching the kids all week. My children look up to the older kids in church, and I appreciate how, even after camp, the teens take time to talk and interact with them at church each Sunday.”
In addition to building up the campers, the camp simultaneously provides an opportunity for high school students to discover and develop their gifts and abilities as they lead the camp. “For our teens, STARS Day Camp is an opportunity for them to discover how God has wired them to serve Him and others. Our team actually begins our mission on Friday night before camp starts. We live at the church throughout the mission experience. Every night, our adult leaders in high school ministry serve our teens through biblical teaching and small group discussion.
“So while the teens pour out during day camp hours, they are also being poured into when they aren’t serving at the camp. We see so much growth in our teens through this mission experience: growth in their faith in God, in their confidence in who they are and in their relationships with each other,” said Fisher.
Continuing in that vein, high school senior Kylie Seitz brought home the same idea. “At night, we have large group sermons and small group time. Between that and all of the relationship building with each other and God, I think God is able to work more in many of us counselors during that one week than we allow Him to the rest of the year,” she said.
Simply the opportunity to serve draws many of these students to the mission. “STARS Day Camp is a way for me to do some mission work where I won’t only see the immediate benefit, but since we’re working in the community, I can also see the long-term benefit to these kids and their families,” said Luke Frandsen, high school senior. “I love working with kids, and I really love having somewhere to physically put my energy in the church. STARS Day Camp gives me both opportunities.”
Parents of the campers also understand the commitment of the teens to the ministry. “The purpose of the camp is to allow local teens to lead and mentor the elementary-aged kids in their walk with Christ. The teens do an amazing job serving the community by teaching our young children,” said Stephanie Vrshek, mother of three campers who have attended camp for two years.
“The relationships that are formed during this week are amazing. Not only do the kids learn about Jesus, they learn to problem solve and work as a team. The teens understand that each child is different and led differently, and they meet the children where they are.”
In addition to the teens and adult leaders, the New Hope Church community was also given the opportunity to participate in the day camp. While the student team directly runs the camp, various adult volunteers serve lunch, supervise some of the activities and drive the buses. In addition, small groups prepare and serve dinner to the teens each evening.
“God has really blessed STARS Day Camp since its beginning. He has used this camp to bless children and their families, grow teenagers to become more confident in their faith in Him and build community among themselves and the families they impact. Our team has doubled in size, and our camper participation has almost tripled since that first camp in 2009.
“But I think the thing that is most impactful for our teens and the campers is the love and care that is shown and experienced throughout this week, and it’s all done in Jesus’ name and for His glory,” said Fisher.
For more information about the ministries of New Hope Church, visit the website at becomehope.com.