One area of Second Avenue in Lenoir City got a little crazy during the summer.
Trinity United Methodist Church last week finished Wacky Wednesday, a six-week program for children ages 4-12 to enjoy music, crafts and games. Children under 3 years old were also cared for and adults invited to stay for conversation.
The goal of the program was to connect the church with the community.
“What we hope for the program is that we are known in our community as a church who reaches out and cares for the community, for the people of the community,” Jane Whitaker, director of Wacky Wednesday, said. “Whether they go to our church or not, we want to be known as a safe and welcoming place for our neighbors.”
While the church has hosted similar summer events in the past, this is the first year after COVID-19. Whitaker and members of the church started preliminary planning in late January and solidified programming and curriculum in May.
The program was similar to a traditional Vacation Bible School but spread over six Wednesdays.
Whitaker said the schedule worked best for volunteers.
“I think that the adult volunteers have liked that format more than an intensive week because it’s one day out of your week,” Whitaker said. “It’s kind of spread that energy out because, as you can look around and see, our volunteers are not exactly young except for our three teen workers that we have. I think it’s been a good format for the church.”
The Rev. Linda Bass said the church initially thought about the program for Tuesdays, but a conflict in schedules led to the move.
Bass and Whitaker worked together to figure out what the church hoped to gain over the six weeks.
“Jane and I sat down and talked about it, and we wanted to reach out to the community in a way — not to get church members necessarily but just to make friends with the community and to get to know people,” Bass said. “… We decided to do something that was not just theological.”
The theme was “Fruits of the Spirit,” based on the New Testament passage of Galatians 5:22-23. Whitaker said the verses are meaningful to her, and the characteristics described don’t necessarily have to be “churchy.”
“We’ve taken one of those fruit of the spirit each week to emphasize,” Whitaker said. “Love, peace and joy and kindness and patience and forgiveness are the ones that we chose to feature. … Whether you’re talking in a religious context or not, those are all positive character traits.”
The church also had some outside help.
Students from Lenoir City High School were hired to assist volunteers. The students were bilingual, which helped volunteers connect to a wider area of the community.
“At first, I was just looking for a summer job,” Shelsy Pineda, one of the student helpers, said. “Then once I started to get to know Miss Jane and Miss Pastor Linda, I actually realized that this is very much my environment in helping and serving the community.”
Pineda, who leads worship at her own church, helped with music time. She said music is a “calling” she experienced at a young age.
“There have been high days and there have been low days, but the kids always bring a smile to your face when they are happy playing outside or singing songs or just doing activities,” Pineda said. “… It has become a routine where I am looking forward to Wednesdays. I’m like ‘oh, it’s Wednesday tomorrow. Let’s get ready for the next day.’ It’s sad that it’s ending, but I’m excited for next year to come.”
Pineda said church members were positive and helpful, pointing out that volunteers encouraged workers and pitched in when extra help was needed.
Whitaker said Pineda and the other students made a “tremendous” contribution to the success of the program.
“Their help has been invaluable,” he said. “They’ve really made the program lively, and so that was something different that we’ve done that we think has been very successful.”
The final Wednesday started with outdoor games, popsicles and water sprayed from a fire hose thanks to the Lenoir City Fire Department.
Whitaker said she has gotten to know some of the mothers of children and they have had “very meaningful” conversations.
“I think when you do a program like this you learn more than you give,” Bass said. “You receive more than you give. So it’s always fun to do those things. Just being faithful to God.”