Awana participants were recognized for their achievements during a live Facebook and radio broadcast awards celebration, followed by a drive-through awards pickup in the Frontier Chapel parking lot April 29. Awana is a Bible-centered program for children pre-kindergarten to sixth-grade. The drive-through Awana graduation was conducted to celebrate the children's participation in the program while ensuring social distancing during the stay-at-home order that began in March to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp

Katie Peterson | Staff Writer

A year of scripture learning and discussions about Jesus culminated in 115 students graduating to the next level of the Awana program in an awards ceremony April 29.

Awana — Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed — was founded in 1950 and is an international non-profit organization derived from 2 Timothy 2:15: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” The program has been offered on Fort Leavenworth for more than 10 years.

Mona Morales, T&T (Truth and Training) director for third- through sixth-graders, congratulates Awana participants on their achievements during a Facebook live awards presentation as Ashley McPherson, Sparks director for kindergartners through second-graders, oversees the video feed on her phone April 29 in the Frontier Chapel sanctuary. Awana is a Bible-centered program for children pre-kindergarten to sixth-grade. After the ceremony conducted via Facebook, Awana participants received their awards in a drive-through procession in the parking lot. The Awana graduation was conducted this way to ensuring social distancing during the stay-at-home order that began in March to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp

“Awana is a curriculum that reaches kids with the gospel. Awana develops leaders and disciples children to walk with Christ for life,” said Carl Tillery, director of religious education. “It develops children into tomorrow’s Christian leaders in every aspect of society and culture.

“This is a great program for kids to learn, grow and experience the environment with other students,” he said.

The Harbridge family — retired Lt. Col. Jim Harbridge and Christina Harbridge with their children 7-year-old James and 12-year-old Emily — wave at fellow Awana participants as they drive through the parking lot to receive their awards and recognition on a loudspeaker being broadcast on the radio April 29 outside Frontier Chapel. Awana is a Bible-centered program for children pre-kindergarten to sixth-grade. The drive-through Awana graduation was conducted to celebrate the children’s participation in the program while ensuring social distancing during the stay-at-home order that began in March to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp

The event began with an awards ceremony live on the Fort Leavenworth Awana Facebook page and included a drive-through procession in the Frontier Chapel parking lot where students picked up their awards as their names were announced on an FM connection to accommodate social restrictions because of COVID-19.

Awards differed based on the level of study — Cubbies for prekindergarten; Sparks for kindergarten through second-grade; and T&T, or Truth and Training for third- through sixth-grade.

Cubbies received awards for attendance, spending time under the apple tree to learn about Jesus and completing their scripture book.

Mona Morales, T&T (Truth and Training) director for third- through sixth-graders; Chaplain (Maj.) Michael McDonald, Garrison chaplain; and Carl Tillery, religious education director, applaud Awana participants as they drive by to receive their awards and recognition on a loudspeaker being broadcast on the radio April 29 in the Frontier Chapel parking lot. Awana is a Bible-centered program for children pre-kindergarten to sixth-grade. The drive-through Awana graduation was conducted to celebrate the children’s participation in the program while ensuring social distancing during the stay-at-home order that began in March to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp

Sparks received awards for scripture memorization, book completion and participation.

T&T students received awards for special character, Bible completion charts, handbook completion, scripture memorization, and one student for each of the four teams received a merit award.

“(The awards ceremony) is a confirmation of the students’ hard work and dedication,” Tillery said. “They have worked all year memorizing scripture

and working to finish their assigned books for each grade level.

“(I hope) that the students and families enjoy picking up the awards that the students have completed and are recognized for,” he said.

Five-year-old Charlize Salter poses for a photo under the Cubbies Blue Team sign for her mother, Maria Salter, before the drive-through Awana graduation for program participants April 29 in the Frontier Chapel parking lot. Awana is a Bible-centered program for children pre-kindergarten to sixth-grade. After an awards ceremony was conducted via Facebook, Awana participants received their awards in a drive-through procession in the parking lot. The Awana graduation was conducted this way to ensuring social distancing during the stay-at-home order that began in March to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp

Students had different reactions to the unique award ceremony.

“It was weird because it wasn’t like a regular graduation would

be,” said 12-year-old Emily Harbridge, who completed her final year of T&T.

Harbridge earned several pins, trophies, patches and an outstanding character certificate for her final year. She has been attending Awana for nine years, beginning as a Cubby in West Point, N.Y., and has memorized hundreds of verses over the years, but she said Colossians 3:20 is her favorite.

“It states that children should obey their parents, and it does please the Lord. It is just a good verse,” Harbridge said. “I think (learning scripture) is important because it gives you life lessons that you need to know for the future and things that will help you.”

Harbridge said, now that she is finished with Awana, she plans to join youth group.

“I just think that going through the nine years of Awana is a good amount,” she said. “Youth group is for my age, too, and I want to try something new that I haven’t done before.”

Eight-year-old Mary Oliver Johnson, who graduated from Sparks and will move onto T&T, said she enjoyed the ceremony.

“We like how they gave out the awards much better,” she said.

Johnson received an award for perfect attendance and an award for memorizing more than 30 scripture verses, but she said the biggest thing she learned is simple.

“That Jesus loves me,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s mother, Michael Johnson, said she thinks Awana is an important program for her daughter to attend.

“Church can be hard because it is not on their level when you’re sitting in a worship service. Then, when you’re at home and you’re trying to instruct them about why we love each other and why Jesus loves you, it is nice to go and have other adults reinforce that,” Michael Johnson said. “It is one of those good and foundational things. My husband and I can look back at our own childhood when we learned it, and it served us well our whole life, so we feel like it is important to expose the kids to something similar.

“We were super excited about (the ceremony),” she said. ‘That was really unique, and it was so nice of them to work hard to still recognize everybody despite the challenges right now. We’re very thankful for that.”

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