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It started out as a job creation program.

A couple of years ago, the Rev. Ray Schmidt, pastor of St. John Francis Regis Catholic Church in Hollywood, was concerned with the trouble young adults in his church were having finding good summer jobs.

“I just thought, ‘How sad that our children are looking for minimum-wage jobs flipping burgers,’” Schmidt said Wednesday. He wanted to find work for them around the church, but there really wasn’t money to pay them, he said.

And then it was suggested that there was also a need for more children’s programs in the summer, programs that keep children active and learning during the long school break, preferably in a positive environment.

The church put those two needs together jobs for teens and summer activities for children and launched the St. John’s Summer Program last year.

“It worked so beautifully,” Schmidt said.

The program’s eight weeks of classes drew an average of 115 children to the program in its first year and allowed the church to hire 24 young adults as instructors. Now in its second year, the program has shown significant growth, averaging 220 children and providing jobs for 44 instructors.

Rich Olon, who runs the religious education program at St. John’s and the youth ministry, oversees the program, which runs from June 18 through Aug. 10. He credits the huge growth in the program to last year’s success. “We had some great young instructors and some fun classes,” Olon said. Marketing was handled “basically, word of mouth.”

The program offers 10 to 11 classes a week, with the classes running from 9 a.m. to noon each day. “Our cooking classes are among the favorites,” Olon said.

Other offerings run the gamut and include clown classes, puppetry, cartoon animation, cardboard architecture, space camp, computer game programming, an American Girl doll class, flag football and fun with physics and robotics, among others. Before- and after-care are also offered to assist parents who prefer all-day programs for their children.

Mary Rose Depperschmidt, 20, of Mechanicsville is in her second summer working as an instructor at the St. John’s program. A 2010 graduate of St. Mary’s Ryken, she is now a student at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where she is majoring in theology and religious studies.

Over the last two years, she has taught acting, clowning, music and dance and space camp. Each class has a lead instructor and one or two helpers. Depperschmidt held summer jobs previously at a local pizza place, but she is enjoying the instructor position, she said. “It’s a lot more fun, but it takes a lot more energy. You have to be on the ball to adapt your lesson plans if something doesn’t seem to be working or the kids aren’t having fun.”

It can be challenging. “I go home every day and take a nap,” Depperschmidt said, laughing.

And then there’s the aspect of the summer that Olon calls “the faith factor.”

One of the requirements for instructors is that they all arrive early and attend Mass together at the church before the classes start. In addition, there is a period after the classes end for theology lessons and then a period of quiet worship together. “It’s such a healthy environment with positive peer pressure,” Olon said.

On Fridays the children in the program also attend Mass with the instructors.

Schmidt and Olon noted that the children in the program, who range in age from 4 to 14, tend to connect with the young instructors and see them as role models. “It puts them around adults who love Christ,” Olon said.

Schmidt said he heard a child in after-care ask as the instructors head off to worship time, “Can I come to the church and pray with you? I promise I will be very quiet.”

“That’s the part that moves my heart,” Schmidt said.

scraton@somdnews.com

To learn more

St. John’s plans to continue its summer program next year. Registration for classes for the 2013 program should begin in late February or early March. For more information, visit www.StJohnsSummerProgram.org.