Royal Family Kids: Summer Camp for Kids in Foster Care

The Need In My Backyard

I first learned about Royal Family Kids Camps from Glenn Garvin, the 2015 keynote speaker at the Imagine Conference (formerly known as The Expo).

He brought to light the need for a normalized summer camp experience for hurting children in foster care. Glenn said he relates to the lives of children of abuse, abandonment, and neglect and this prompted him to get involved in RFK. He wanted to help break the cycle of abuse in today’s broken families.

In America, 3.6 million children are reported as being abused, neglected or abandoned.

The primary purpose of Royal Family KIDS Camp is to give foster children ages 6-12 a week of positive memories and royal treatment in a Christian Camp environment. Since 1985 RFK has been encouraging children to take one step towards a brighter tomorrow. RFK is the nation’s leading network of camps, clubs and mentors for children of abuse, neglect and abandonment.

After his keynote, I joined Glenn at his breakout session, and I asked him where the closest camp was to Wexford, PA. He replied, “New Castle, PA”. Well, right there, I knew it was a God thing! New Castle is my hometown (and is 30 miles from Wexford). From that moment, God planted a seed in my heart, “You need to get involved. You need to give back to your hometown community!” So I sought out the leaders, interviewed to be a relief counselor, and joined the purple family!

My Camping Experienced

On August 13th I departed for Royal Family KIDS Camp and on August 18th I returned from a fabulous, fun-filled week with 26 children from Lawrence County’s Child and Youth Services. It was an experience I will never forget! Keep in mind I have never camped as a kid or young adult. It was my first experience in a sleepover camp in a cabin with bunkbeds. I was a buddy relief counselor and my job was to assist the counselors who had children assigned to them. I shared a cabin wing with 3 other adults and 3 girls who were 12 years old. Each of the girls would be graduating from the camp at the end of the week in a graduation ceremony.

From arrival of the charter bus with the 26 excited campers, until the time the bus departed camp to head back to the church for families to welcome the kids home, our schedule was full of exciting activities. Each day included breakfast club, praise and worship songs/dances, swimming, archery, adventure land, arts and crafts, riding bikes, kickball, and 9-square (4-square game on steroids). Each day ended with devotional time with the campers reading from their new Bibles.

The very special day in the middle of the week included a birthday party for the children. RFK believes each child should have an opportunity in life to celebrate their birthday. Each child received a very large personalized gift box of items selected especially for them (clothing, shoes, socks, backpack, school supplies, and toys). Each child was given the opportunity to open their gifts and play with their toys as we all joined in to celebrate with them. Of course, there was birthday cake, decorations, and a catered meal to celebrate the campers! This was the highlight of the week.

On the last day of camp, the 12-year old campers graduated from RFK with a celebration including a purple cap and gown provided from the home office. Also, each graduate received a beautiful framed portrait of themselves by a professional photographer to take home to their family. Along with the framed portrait, the graduate also received a personal photo album of action shots of themselves participating in camp activities.

Camp Ends

When the campers and counselors arrived back at Assembly of God Church in New Castle, the families joined us. There were video highlights of the kids from the week projected on the big screen and Coach Kim called for the kids to join her on stage. She led the campers in one final rendition of their favorite praise and worship song, “Your Love is Deep!” There wasn’t a dry eye in the place. The kids cried. The counselors cried. The staff cried. And even some of the family members were crying. What a proud moment for all!

The kids stood proudly on stage and acted out the motions while singing their hearts out to God!

Your love is deep.
Your love is high.
Your love is long.
Your love is wide.
Your love is deeper than my view of grace,
higher than this worldly place,
longer than this road I’ve traveled,
wider than the gap You’ve filled.

I could cry all over again thinking about it. Their sweet voices and their tears will be forever engrained in my memory and on my heart.

Lasting Impressions

I cannot imagine being removed from my family due to an unsafe environment and being placed in foster care. Though it is sometimes necessary, it turns a child’s world upside down. It was a gift to love these children and provide them a normal, fun childhood experience in the midst of their chaos.

Over the last ten years of attending the Imagine Conference I have learned to be the church . . . not just to go to church. When Scripture tells us to care for the fatherless, it doesn’t mean we all have to adopt.

Being a counselor for one week during the summer at Royal Family Kids Camp is one way anyone can live out Christ’s love.

RFK Camp was an experience of a lifetime. I highly recommend you volunteer next year and join the purple family. You won’t be disappointed! Kudos to the New Castle Camp Director, Lacey Koprivnak and her excellent staff members and the two churches, Assembly of God and Castlewood Alliance, who were involved in fundraising, training, programming, and all camp activities and supplies. Everyone was amazing! This new, first-time camper/counselor will be back for more fun and friendships next year.

About Royal Family Kids

In Pennsylvania there are approximately 4,437 children, ages 6-12 in the foster care system. There are five RFK camp locations in Pennsylvania (Chambersburg, Erie, Greencastle, Meadville, New Castle) serving these children with the help of wonderful volunteers who have dedicated thousands of hours to reach America’s abused, neglected, and abandoned children. For more about Royal Family Kids, visit http://royalfamilykids.org/ and be sure to visit with the exhibitors at the Imagine Conference to learn how you support kids and families in foster care.


Lori Kobayashi is a long-time member of the OrphanCare Ministry at North Way Christian Community. She has a heart to live out Christ’s calling to love kids from hard places. Over the years Lori has done this through child sponsorship, seven years of short-term missions trips to Honduras, providing consistent respite care to give foster and adoptive families a break from their day-to-day challenges, and most recently as a camp counselor for Royal Family Kids Camp.

 

 

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The Calling of Foster Parents

“Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
James 1:27

Family

A family is a wonderful gift to a child. A family provides so much more than protection and safety to the child. A child develops their confidence, social skills, emotional skills and more from their family. A family prepares the child for adulthood and helps to guide them in the big transition. Many people have fond memories of their family growing up. Memories include vacations, sports, games, family time, funny moments, and emotional moments. A lot of people can identify important lessons and skills they learned from their parents and family like hard work, financial responsibility, and self-discipline.

Sadly, there are thousands of children that are growing up without a family to love and guide them. The AFCARS report found that in 2015, there were 427, 910 children in the United States that were in foster care. Pennsylvania has the 7th highest amount of foster children with approximately 15,000 children in foster care.

What is Foster Care?

You may be asking, what is foster care? Foster care is the system set up by the state in which certified caregivers provide a home for children in need of care. Children enter foster care due to neglect, abuse (physical, sexual, psychological), or being orphaned. The foster parents provide the child with a loving family until they can either return to their parents, live with a relative, be adopted, or another permanent plan is identified. There is a shortage of families for these children and approximately 10 percent (23,000) of children entering the foster care system age out with no or very little support.

Our Role

These facts not only break my heart, but they break God’s heart. God was very clear about his love for the fatherless (Deuteronomy 10:18) and orphaned (James 1:27). These children entering the foster care system are hurting and broken. They need to personally experience the love of Christ so that they can heal from their pain and be prepared for whatever their future may bring. Who better to show them this love then the church? Is this a difficult and challenging responsibility? Yes. Is it emotional and heartbreaking at times? Yes. But, does Jesus not promise to strengthen us to accomplish all things (Luke 1:37; Philippians 4:13, Psalm 29:11, Isaiah 40:29, Isaiah 41:10)?

Leah

Leah is a 12 year old girl who at the age of 3 was removed from her parents due to alcohol abuse and physical and verbal abuse. She spent 3 years in foster care before she was adopted. Leah fondly remembers her foster parents and foster siblings and developed a strong relationship with them. She still stays in touch with them and visits at times. Leah feels that the most helpful thing her foster parents did for her was involve her in educational services and help her learn the importance of education. Leah explained that her foster parents were good for her because they cared for her, met her needs, and loved her.

Leah’s challenge to you is:

“There are a lot of kids who need you.”

Being a foster parent is an important responsibility and is a risk for our loving hearts, but the rewards for the child are great! You can help a confused and hurting child to find healing and develop the skills they need to succeed in life, no matter what their future holds.

 

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Rachelle Regner, MSW

Bethany Christian Services

724-940-2900

 

 

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The Other 95%

How the Whole Church Can Live Out Christ’s Love in Foster Care and Adoption

I once heard a friend ask, “Where is the Church in foster care and adoption?” She wondered how it was possible that her family felt so alone in it’s obedience to God’s call for them to foster hurting children. The children she, and many others are serving have faced unspeakable trauma, have lost the only moms and dads they’ve ever known, and often struggle to figure out which end is up. No one living out Christ’s calling to love his neighbor in this way should be left standing alone asking, where are all the Christians?

But you say you don’t feel called to foster or adopt. But what if my friend (and Scripture) isn’t necessarily asking you to foster or adopt? Look with me at James 1:27,

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (emphasis added)

Did you see it? God’s word tells us that we should live out our worship through the tangible acts of visiting orphans.

Statistics tell us that only about 5% of the United States’ population will foster or adopt. That number isn’t much higher within the Church. And while we need many more Christian foster and adoptive homes, not every Christian should be a foster or adoptive parent. But every adoptive and foster family already engaged needs the body of Christ standing around them in this journey.

Families who are engaging on the front lines of caring for children from hard places bear a heavy weight. It’s a load they carry with humility and joy knowing that this is cross-bearing love—partnering with the Great Redeemer who wants to see healing and restoration for these children. But it’s still a front-line, spiritual, emotional, and sometimes physical battle. And like any soldier, they shouldn’t be going into battle alone.

When foster and adoptive families step into the brokenness with a child, they need to feel the arms of the other 95% of Christians wrapping around them. So practically speaking, what does this mean to you?

If you don’t know a foster or adoptive family personally:
-Connect with a ministry that is offering adoptive and foster families free childcare. Childcare and respite is one of the most requested areas of help from foster and adoptive families. This could be as simple as serving with our OrphanCare Ministry that offers free respite nights for foster and adoptive parents 6 times a year. Get your clearances, and join us as we play kickball, do crafts, or rock babies. These moms and dads desperately need a breather to reconnect and invest in their marriage.
-Sign up to be a Family Friend through the Safe Families for Children Program. This will allow you to be paired with a specific adoptive family so that you can offer ongoing respite. Just invite a child to join your family for a few hours a couple of times a month. It can make a world of difference to a mom or dad. Parenting is hard, and parenting kids who have walked through trauma is quite different than parenting kids who have always known consistency, safety, love, and food. Your commitment to come alongside a family in a consistent way could bring unspeakable hope to them in the day-to-day.
-Donate – Adoption is expensive, and foster parents are often met with unexpected and sometimes immediate needs. Organizations such as Foster Love Project or adoption funds through OrphanCare or Gregory’s Gift are meeting the tangible needs of Pittsburgh-area families.

If you do know someone who is fostering or adopting:
-Bring meals (and some for their freezer too!) Foster parents often accept children with very little notice. They have court hearings that don’t run on schedule, countless therapy appointments to help kids heal, and often are transporting the children in their home to visit with their biological families. Having someone they can call to bring a meal (even if it’s from a restaurant or frozen from a grocery store!) is a real blessing.
-Mow the grass, do a load of laundry, etc. Adding a child to your family changes everything. Sometimes the list of every-day tasks that need to be completed is daunting while you’re in the middle of a period of adjustment. Pitch in everywhere you can.
-Babysit. Foster and adoptive parents are required to attend extensive and ongoing training classes to prepare them for the realities of caring for children from hard places. They may have court hearings they need to attend, therapy appointments, and be transporting kids to visits with their mom and dad. If the family has other children in the home, they need you to show up in a big way so they can juggle it all. And quite frankly, they probably need a date night, too. Ask what clearances and training you may need, get them (it’s not hard), and then watch their kids.
-Send an encouraging note and include a gift card to a local restaurant. Some days are just hard. Blessing a foster or adoptive family with a chance to eat out, or order in, and know they are being prayed for can be a bright spot in their week.
-Celebrate them and their children (no matter how old the child is!) Imagine all the ways you’d be excited to welcome a baby into a friend’s family when she announces she is pregnant. Now do the same things for your foster and adoptive friends.

I had another conversation with a friend recently who just started her fostering journey. She received her first placement, an infant, with little notice. The first night a friend dropped off a Pack ‘n Play, a bassinette, and other baby gear. Another friend asked if she needed infant clothes. Another offered childcare for the children in their home while they were attending the court hearings for their foster baby, while another mom listened as she poured out her heart about the emotional rollercoaster of the first few days. Her response: it’s been amazing to see God meet our needs and feel the love of friends in this journey.

Church, this is living out Christ’s call to love. Let’s make my last friend’s story a reality for every foster and adoptive family in our circle. May no one ever stand on the front line, answering Christ’s call, and say, “Where’s the Church?” Let’s live out our worship in these tangible ways.

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Erin Brothers, Co-Director, OrphanCare Ministry of North Way Christian Community

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