When the sun sizzles and school is out, some kids don't just look forward to summer camp. Some look forward to vacation Bible school.
"It is a week geared to teaching kids Bible stories in a fun, loving environment," said Laura Leyland, who directs vacation Bible school at Grace Episcopal Church in Tampa Palms with her husband, Ronnie. "It's like a summer camp the church offers."
This summer, many local churches plan to provide vacation Bible schools, which usually run for a week during mornings or afternoons. The goal, says Leyland, is to give kids a chance to "know more about Jesus and experience his love."
Said Jean Gadoury, director of religious education at St. Tim's Catholic Church in Lutz, "I pray they walk away with the fact that church is a good place to be." Her church will host a two-week vacation Bible school in June.
The programs include music, games, videos and snacks, and they draw crowds of kids that are sometimes sizable. At Grace Episcopal, space allows for 96 participants. Idlewild Baptist Church expects 2,000, according to its Web site.
Some programs are free, and others charge fees that seem free, when compared with conventional camps.
The cost covers what it takes to keep the usually volunteer-led programs running, Leyland said.
"This is more of a ministry and an outreach," Leyland said. "We're not in it to make money."
Nor are the churches in competition with one another.
"We're all in this together," she said. "We teach these kids how to apply the principles the Bible teaches to their everyday life."