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Fresno church serves kids during spring break

Students from preschool through sixth grade can enjoy a free sports camps hosted by Mountain View Church Sunnyside during spring break. The camp, which was started in 2021 and is offered twice a year during school breaks, is primarily run by volunteers from the church’s youth group. Photo: MVC

While students often anticipate spring break with excitement because it’s time off from their normal school schedule, parents may be looking for alternative activities to keep their kids occupied.

For the last few years, Mountain View Church in Fresno, Calif., has viewed the break as an opportunity to serve the communities neighboring both its main campus and Sunnyside campus.

The campuses, located about 5 miles apart, each offer a free event during the week of spring break to students from preschool age through sixth grade: a sports camp held at the Sunnyside campus and a “Spring Spectacular” day camp at the main campus.

The sports camp, which the church also offers during Thanksgiving break, began in 2021. Sunnyside was a mobile church plant for years before moving into a permanent building in the southeast Fresno area in January 2021.

“We were looking for ways to engage a community that doesn’t care about the fact that you’re in a building, and they’re not really interested in who you are as a church,” says Ken Wilkinson, campus pastor at Sunnyside.

It was also a challenge looking for proactive ways to bring people back to church after attendance declined dramatically because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We wanted to offer something that was encouraging and engaging, especially for active boys, and also include a gospel presentation that is on their level,” Wilkinson says.

“We wanted to offer something that was encouraging and engaging, especially for active boys, and also include a gospel presentation that is on their level,” says Ken Wilkinson, Sunnyside campus pastor.

During the camp, which runs from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., students are grouped by age and move to different stations where they receive tutorials in football, soccer, basketball and baseball. They also hear a Bible story and enjoy a barbeque lunch before their parents pick them up.

“Part of the blessing of our four acres is that there’s a ton of grass, so we’re able to do everything outside, except the Bible story; we bring that inside to minimize distractions,” says Wilkinson.

He says they hear from parents and kids who look forward to each sports camp, and while the camp hasn’t led to a lot of church growth yet, they are “pressing into doing what God has put on our heart and trusting the Lord with the results.”

Spring Spectacular offers glimpse of VBS

The Spring Spectacular was added to the spring break activities in 2022.

The day camp gives kids a glimpse of what a day at Mountain View’s vacation Bible school, Summer Spectacular, is like. They enjoy several hours of games, crafts, worship and teaching, a skit and lunch.

John Leonard has been serving as the youth pastor at Mountain View for almost seven years, and 2024 will be his first year fully overseeing the event, which he has emceed in the past.

He explains that part of the inspiration for Spring Spectacular came from an event the youth group students have attended each spring break at another local church.

“Breakaway” is a three-day event hosted by Peoples Church in Fresno. Students in junior high and high school gather for services, games and worship in the evenings, and spend their days doing service projects in the city.

Leonard says it’s a way to get students excited about serving their local community. In the past, they’ve participated in park cleanups, helped at a food bank, worked with other ministry organizations and helped with cleanup at the church.

“Missions isn’t always going somewhere; it’s in our own backyard,” Leonard says. “We found that one of the needs was to reach families and kids when they’re on break to give them something to do.”

Leonard estimates that about 150 to 200 kids attended Spring Spectacular in 2023, which is about half of their usual summer VBS attendance. Twenty-two of those kids committed their lives to Jesus for the first time.

Mountain View gets the word out about both the sports camp and Spring Spectacular through local elementary schools.

“We partner with them at Christmastime to provide gifts for kids…and part of our working relationship with the schools is then a couple times a year we’ll ask them to send out information,” Wilkinson says.

Youth group volunteers “make it happen”

Adult volunteers from the church help with supervision and food preparation, but Wilkinson and Leonard both say the youth group students are essential to putting on the events.

“The only way we can do it is because students from the youth group make it happen,” Wilkinson says. “I come with a somewhat empty slate and say, ‘You know kids and you know the Bible, so I want you to think of a story to tell them and a way to challenge them to grow in their faith,’ and just leave that up to them.

“It’s the same with the sports areas—the students running the stations know more about their game than I do,” he adds. “The only guideline I gave them was, ‘Keep in mind the skill level of the people that you’re working with.’”

Leonard  says, “We have youth who are eager to serve, and we want to allow them to thrive in that.”

This year, the Spring Spectacular will be held on the Monday of spring break, March 25, with the sports camp the following day.

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