As the bus rounds one final curve to enter into the camp parking lot, there is an atmosphere of excitement and wonder mixed with a hint of anxiety for both kids and adults alike. Pre-selected foster kids ages 6-12 descend the steep bus stairs and are surrounded by tall trees, the sounds and smells of the forest and a camp counselor specifically assigned to be their buddy for the week. This 5-day summer camp hosted annually by Royal Family provides a "normal" experience for kids who feel anything but normal and is specifically designed for children of abuse and trauma.
Royal Family campers are children in the system, bouncing from home to home, some of them living in institutionalized group homes. They have experienced things no child should know— many forms of abuse, neglect, incarcerated parents, being separated from their siblings, not knowing if/when they will see their biological families ever again. While these traumas certainly leave their mark, the goal at camp is to take the weight from their little shoulders, giving them freedom to just be kids for 5 wonderful days. Campers love getting to catch bugs, watch a magic show, swim in the pool, eat s’mores on 4th of July, and have dance parties. They perform in the Variety Show and beam as their stories, dances, and weird jokes are cheered.
Counselors at RFK Camp have the privilege of doing things to help these kids understand their true value. Imagine writing a letter to hang above a child's bunk, telling them they are wonderful, intelligent, brave and loved, perhaps for the first time in their life...the counselors do that and see the wonder in their eyes! Counselors spend time braiding a girl's hair, playing a game with a little boy, and teaching many campers how to swim for the first time! Counselors and camp staff also host a banquet where all of the children have “makeovers” - tutus and pearls for the ladies, shirts and ties for the gentlemen; their smiles could not be contained as they looked in the mirror. Moreover, when a kid throws a tantrum, breaks a rule or gets in a fight at camp, the counselors react with love and understanding rather than anger, giving the child a chance to observe a positive way to handle things.
Out of 11 returning campers at RFK Camp 2017, only four were in the same homes they were in the previous year. Others had been in 3 or 4 homes since last summer, yanked from place to place with little or no warning, plunked into the home of a stranger and told it is "home" now. Two of the girls at camp live in group homes where physical affection is not allowed between the children or children and staff. These sweet girls are never hugged or kissed goodnight and no one braids their hair. Ashley is a girl who has come to RFK Camp the last two summers. Her application said she "has no family". She has spent the majority of her childhood in institutionalized care and in the year between camps her placement changed multiple time. It is not surprising that at the end of the week, she did not want to leave, saying, "this is the only family I have ever had that makes me feel safe." Royal Family Kids Camp has the privilege of providing a place where these kids can be silly, happy and loved for five amazing days in a year, putting something positive into their memory bank.
RFK is already making plans for their next camp the summer of 2019 so if you are interested in donating supplies or funds to make camp possible or would like to volunteer as a Camp Counselor please e-mail Director Phil Ebsworth at firstname.lastname@example.org.