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.
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.
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.