The Religion News Service reports on an initiative in Durham, NC, to transform VBS activities into something a little more activist.
St Luke’s Episcopal Church was one of several congregations invited to participate in “We’ve Got the Power” at Duke Memorial United Methodist Church. In its May newsletter, St Luke’s explains:
Duke Memorial is partnering with the Durham CAN (Congregations, Associations, and Neighborhoods) team at Duke Memorial to bring you their version of VBS – “We’ve Got the Power,” a community organizing camp for children ages 6-12. …
One of CAN’s focus issues is affordable housing as we grapple with rapid development in Durham. The church camp will also focus on this issue. Here’s how they’re doing it: When children arrive at camp they will receive a character whom they will play throughout the week. Their character will have a name, job, amount to spend on housing each month, mode of transportation, and family info. Children will then be given a cardboard box that corresponds with the amount they can afford to spend. The bigger the amount the bigger the box. …
The RNS story follows up on the camp that took place in June.
Monday through Wednesday, the kids built cardboard neighborhoods with the houses as close together as possible and amenities like a public pool located as centrally and equitably as possible. Overnight on Wednesday, the staff rearranged the city with wealthier residents’ homes and new skyscrapers in the center of town and poorer neighborhoods cut off by the beltway.
The children discovered the rearranged city and found the new power structures “really frustrating,” said [Duke Memorial associate minister, Melissa] Florer-Bixler …
Later that evening, in the neighborhood they’d named “Chuck E. Cheese,” the kids had to decide what they wanted from the city council to mitigate the impact of the highway.
They used the community organizing tools – including protest songs and marches – to regain control of their city.
The kids eventually agreed to build a rainbow-colored tunnel to connect the neighborhoods torn asunder by a highway.
RNS notes that the Durham camp is part of a wider movement to empower young activists, using programs sponsored by secular organizations such as the Children’s Defense Fund, American Friends Service Committee, and Kids4Peace to partner with traditional VBS sites.
Read more on RNS about the new wave of VBS and community organizing for children and youth here.
The Rev. Helen Svoboda-Barber, Rector of St Luke’s Episcopal Church, was enthusiastic about the Durham program in a message exchange via Facebook.
I loved that this VBS drew children from a number of different areas of our city, and that it used an actual example from Durham’s history about a neighborhood that had been disrupted… Even as an adult volunteer, this VBS program helped empower me to be more active in living out my faith by talking to government leaders. It gave me courage to contact state, local, and national representatives to share with them what matters to me. I am hopeful it did the same for the children who attended.
In fact, she has already seen results from the program within her own family:
Several weeks after VBS was over, our family was driving cross country, and instead of bickering and fighting from the back seat, one of my sons began singing VBS protest songs in response to his brothers’ encroachment into his space!
Featured image: “We’ve Got the Power” at Duke Memorial UMC. Photo courtesy of Franklin Golden.