Melanie Smeenk says as a past GEMS counselor, she took more away from the program than those she helped.
"At times I felt like I left gaining more than the girls," she said. "It's so rewarding."
GEMS (Girls Everywhere Meeting the Savior) held their kick-off party at Sunnyside Christian Reformed Church this past Wednesday.
Smeenk, this year's program coordinator, said the group meets every first and third Wednesday of each month. Each year GEMS produces a curriculum to coincide with a theme, this year it's "Get Wisdom: Go Beyond the Gold."
Participants like Kayla Van Wieringen, 10, come back to the program because of the new friends made.
"It's like being a new kid in school; but you're not new, you just don't know everyone," she said.
Last year the program had nearly 50 girls enrolled and last night more than 30 showed to register.
"But I think more will show up on the first night," Smeenk said.
GEMS begins each session similar; with praise and worship. After singing and learning motions to the songs, the girls move on to their age group classes. Along with crafts and snacks, the girls learn a valuable lesson each week that complements the year's theme. Some of the lessons for this year's theme, "Get Wise," might include making wise choices with words, relationships, integrity such as honesty and sticking to principles, work and with money. This year's theme verse comes from the Bible's book of Proverbs 16:16-17, "How much better to get wisdom than gold, to choose understanding rather than silver. The highway of the upright avoids evil; he who guards his way guards his life."
Each year the entire group is also involved in a fundraiser and a service project.
"We want to remind the girls the importance of earning money for the things we do and the importance to give back to those who have less," Smeenk said.
In addition to the class-time lessons, the girls are able to earn badges in their daily lives. Some of the badges include the creation badge, learning about God's creation; the pet care badge, learning the steps to care for a pet; and a baking badge, bringing back a successful baked good. Badges are endless with this group, making the program lessons extend beyond the church classroom walls.
The older girls' class is a little different than the rest.
"In our class we focus less on the badges and more on the girls themselves," eighth grade counselor Laura Eisenga said.
The older girls' class focuses on character building and how to take their newfound self esteem and values beyond the church walls.
"We want to challenge them to think of their lives reflecting Jesus' life," Eisenga said. "We also want to encourage them to be a light in their teenage world."
For student Kristen Broersma, 12, the most important facet of GEMS is learning about God and maintaining a passion to stay strong in the Christian faith.
"The most important is learning about Him and setting your heart on fire," she added.
Perhaps the most memorable event of the year is the GEMS sleepover.
"But we don't do much sleeping," Smeenk said.
For 11-year-old Alyssa Martin the highlight of the sleepover was eating junk food and staying up late.
The next GEMS meeting, Sept. 21, will be held at Sunnyside Christian Reformed Church, located at 531 S. 16th Street. Smeenk said all girls grades 3-8 are welcome to join in at any time throughout the year. For more information call Melanie Smeenk at 830-3222.