No child is damaged goods, and none are second-class citizens. They are gems, priceless gems.
And God has a purpose for each of them. Some children have been told they are useless, unwanted, and unworthy. Abused and neglected children are especially vulnerable.
The numbers of abused and neglected children are staggering. In the United States in 2018, 678,000 children were victims of child maltreatment. There are approximately 430,000 children in foster care, one-third of those live with relatives. All these children have one thing in common: all have had a very rough start in life.
Royal Family Kids (RFK) camps are one week, faith-based summer camps for children ages 7-11 who have experienced abuse and neglect. Last year, 214 camps in the United States relied on over 14,000 volunteers to host 8,846 children.
I will tell you about one of those camps, Camp #113, for which I have volunteered over 17 years.
Our camp is one of three in Utah. 75 adult volunteers staff the camp. They are committed to spending a week with 50 children from the foster care system. We do not charge the staff or children to attend. Instead, we rely entirely on donations from generous people.
Each adult is thoroughly vetted through an application process, background check, interviews, and 12+ hours of training before setting foot at camp. We are serious about safety, especially children’s safety. Knowing that these children are especially vulnerable and that we are responsible for their care weighs heavily on the directors, nurses, social workers, and child specialists on staff. Our rules are strict for a good reason: absolute safety for everyone, especially the children. Counselors are paired, and each is responsible for only two campers. No child is ever alone with an adult, and supervision is high.
All staff are chosen to attend this camp for one purpose only: to give these children a positive message of love and hope through the curriculum provided by RFK. Since our volunteers worship in over twenty different churches, we focus on the beautiful message of God’s love. The staff is taught to view these children as God sees them: very precious, created, and loved deeply by God.
Daily chapel and Bible time are centerpieces to every day, with songs and skits that reflect the Bible stories and lessons. We encourage the staff to pray with the children, talk about, and thank God frequently during the week.
Every Child Accepted
Camp week starts for the staff on Sunday morning, with a commissioning service and a trip to the camp to get ready for the children who arrive by bus on Monday morning. Everyone meets the bus; waving, smiling, cheering, and jumping up and down to welcome the children. The children who have attended in previous years are all smiles. First-timers are usually perplexed and apprehensive. They wonder, “Who are these crazy people?” We then introduce every child to their counselor, who will be their most important and special friend for the next five days. The week is filled with hiking, swimming, arts, crafts, and activities for all interests and abilities. The children are not only encouraged but showered with smiles, cheers, and praise.
At this camp, everybody wins! Counselors accept every child for who they are.
Wednesday evening is “Talent Night.” Songs, skits, tumbling, magic tricks, and jokes are popular, but no matter what a child does, he/she gets a wild standing ovation. The looks on every child’s face and their encouragement of the others are priceless.
One of the favorite activities for both children and volunteers is the Tea Party. After a chat with “Grandma Manners,” the children and their counselors don dress-up clothes. We encourage make-believe conversations. It is hilarious, and it does not take long for everyone to get the giggles.
Incredibly, many of the children have never had a birthday celebration. For this reason, “Everybody’s Birthday” is part of every RFK camp. Our party includes bounce houses, pony rides, a petting zoo, games, visits from local sports celebrities, and simple gifts for every child. As one camper put it: “This is everything I ever wanted.”
What I Have Learned at Camp
- The joy of connecting with a child who needs it desperately.
- Learning acceptance and to see others through Jesus’ eyes.
- These children are precious. They are priceless, and they matter.
- It is a joy to help plant seeds of hope for children who have had little experience with hope or joy.
- It’s possible to watch children grow in many ways and watch little miracles happen hourly.
- It is a plus to come out of your comfort zone into a world you probably have never seen and build awareness of child abuse and neglect.
- Our camp’s benefits extend to the volunteers, such as building life-long friendships with people you may not have met otherwise, feeling self-satisfaction in giving to others, a sense of accomplishment, knowing you’ve been a part of something big, beautiful, and meaningful.
- God’s people from many different denominations can come together with one purpose: to share God’s abundant and unconditional love with children who have seen little of that kind of love.
- It is so much fun to play like a child for one week in the mountains!
- It is great to feel the best tired you have ever felt!
Every Child is Lovable and Loved
These children are NOT damaged goods. The center of this camp teaches the children that they are LOVABLE and they are LOVED. Deeply, and unconditionally. Watching these children thrive, prosper, and flourish throughout the week is an indescribable experience. By the end of the week, the children stand a little straighter, a little taller.
Their smiles are deeper, their faces softer and more open. It is joy. Pure joy. We send these children home with a priceless gift, words from Jeremiah 29:11:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.