By Karen Vance
MOUNT HEALTHY - Thousands of Tristate children will attend a vacation Bible school program this summer, and many of them will be among the 3 million children worldwide who use an educational package produced in Greater Cincinnati.
Karen Roth, an editor at Standard Publishing in Mount Healthy, holds up puppets used in the company's vacation Bible school lesson packages throughout the years.
Photos by STEVEN M. HERPPICH/The Enquirer
Founded as a publishing association in 1865 and moved to Cincinnati in 1869, Standard Publishing is a producer and printer of Christian-themed materials. In 1923, it became the first publisher to create a full-scale vacation Bible school program.
Company executives declined to give annual revenue or sales figures.
But for the team of people - five full-time employees and more than 78 free-lance contributors in 14 states - who sell their vacation Bible school packets to more than 20,000 churches in the U.S. and Canada, , creating a unit is about more than big business.
"It really matters to us. We're not just trying to throw things together. It's really a personal ministry for each of us," said Karen Roth of Mason, who has worked on Standard's Bible school team for eight years.
"For me, (a successful package is) something that matters to the kids, makes a difference to them," Roth said. "It's got to do more than just entertain them for a few hours. A really good VBS changes them."
While children at many vacation Bible schools this summer will see the team's creations in "Jesus Helps You Power Up," the team is already hard at work on next year's package, with a construction theme.
Based in: Mount Healthy
Employees here: 160
Reaches: 3 million children worldwide, either through use this year in the United States and Canada or as the package is passed on through mission work to children overseas.
Other facts: Started publishing a vacation Bible school unit in 1923, the first in the business. Bible school package used by 20,000 churches in the United States and abroad.
In each unit, the team creates 80 to 90 individual products, ranging from instruction books to puppets, life-sized costumes, and rewards like pens and bookmarks, all centered on one theme.
"When we come up with themes, we try to be in touch with what's going on in the culture; and of course we want to capture the child's attention," said Kay Moll of Mason, director of the Bible school team for Standard.
This year, the topics center on New Testament passages, including "love one another," "accept one another," "serve one another," "comfort one another" and "forgive one another."
"I want something that gives me a depth of content as well as a depth of resource," Moll said. "I want the hype, I want the fun, but ultimately, I want it to go to the teachers and be something they can use at all age levels."
That usability is one reason some local churches cite for using the Standard Publishing package. "They really give us a complete package. We're a small church, and they really make it easy for us to do it," said Patti Hornstra, co-director of vacation Bible school at All Saints Lutheran Church in Mount Carmel. "Anyone could walk in and do this program. And everything coordinates. The whole day they're getting the message."
The starter kit is $54.99, but churches can add many accessories, including life-sized costumes of the package's mascots, ants named Rachel and Reuben.
Most team members volunteer to teach the unit at their own churches.
"I've been on the other end of it, and I know what I would like for a teacher. That's what I try to put into it," said Marcy Levering of Delhi Township. Before coming to Standard Publishing 10 years ago, she was a teacher at a small Christian school. For her, nothing is more satisfying than teaching the package she helped create and seeing it work.
Equally important, many teachers say, is the music. That's where Donna Fehl comes in. She coordinates production for the vacation Bible school team, but it's putting together the package's music that she really enjoys.
"If you can create songs that stick with you, that's the best part," said Fehl, of Lebanon.
While she's on the verge of retirement after 31 years with Standard, Fehl said her job doesn't feel like work, and she smiles when she talks about a song for next year's theme: construction, with orange barrels as the "mascots."
The background music was created using various power tools, she said.
"It really comes alive when I'm there watching the recording. I can see right away the kids' reaction to it as they're performing it," Fehl said. "It's been just as much fun this year as the first year I did it."
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