The month of January may seem a little early to be thinking about summer camp, but it is not too early to prepare for a week on the mission field – right here in your community’s back yard.
This upcoming summer, many children will make their way to various camps across the state. Each child will have weeks of excitement experiencing the outdoors, honing skills in various sports, and receive spiritual guidance, all aimed to boost self-esteem and give kids a memorable time they will cherish forever.
Unfortunately, due to state budget constraints and safety issues, summer camp for children in foster care is not a possibility. This is something that several community members and the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) are working together to change. They have chosen to take on the call to start a Royal Family Kids Camp (RFKC) right here in Webster Parish in June. The goal of this camp is to specifically meet the needs of the children in our area who are in the “system” who otherwise might not have this kind of opportunity.
“Our campers are the kids that nobody else takes to camp,” Sandra Samuel, Webster Parish CASA advocate. “The heart of RFKC is to take kids who have been treated like trash and treat them like royalty. We believe there is nothing more life changing than experiencing unconditional acceptance.”
Samuel has been advocating for Webster Parish children in foster care for three years through the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program. She attended Louisiana’s first RFKC in the summer of 2014 in Mandeville.
“These camps are the gateway to a whole new life, and we would love for you to join us,” she said.
Samuel joined with a board of teachers, ministers, concerned citizens and DCFS employees, looking to help better the life of children being cared for by statewide services.
“My experience at RFKC in Mandeville forever changed me,” Samuel said. “Through my work in CASA, I have the responsibility to supervise volunteers in the trenches ‘being the voice’ for children who have been neglected and abused – sometimes even thrown away. Through my volunteering at RFKC, I was able to share something so much deeper with the children. At camp, I witnessed painful eyes light up with joy, I witnessed a child unwilling to speak start singing at random moments, and I had the amazing experience of watching little hearts let go of fear and accept being loved and have fun. “
Royal Family KIDS Camp opened in 1985 and was founded by Wayne and Diane Tesch. Now the camps have spread to 38 states and to Chile, Australia, Namibia, and South Africa. Churches in 22 denominations host the camps.
Last year, 7,359 campers, ages 6 through 12 participated in a week at the camp guided by more than 11,000 volunteers. Among the volunteers were 163 former campers. This year marks the camp’s 30th year.
The Tesches have written three books, including 2010’s “A Week of Memories-A Life of Hope,” which featured stories of 20 former campers who returned to serve at the camps. In 2013, a filmmaker who served as a Royal Family counselor wrote and directed the movie “Camp.”
“The most important purpose for Royal Family Kids,” said Tesch, is moving people from the pew to purpose. A stay at the camp can make a tremendous difference in the life of a child who has been neglected and physically abused, he said.
“In one week in the cathedral of the outdoors, the seeds of hope and healing begin to take place in their heart,” Tesch continues.
“Our goal is not to change their life in a week,” says Scott Murrish, ambassador of vision for Royal Family KIDS Camp, “but to plant seeds of safety, hope, and love. That way, when they grow up, they can say that somebody loved me at Royal Family KIDS Camp, and that someone loved Jesus.”
The camp’s leaders recognized that children in foster care needed more intervention than a single week in the summer. In 2005, the Royal Family KIDS experience expanded into a year-round program that includes a monthly club and mentoring.
The ambitious goal, Tesch explains, is for every foster child to experience a Royal Family KIDS club and mentorship.
It comes as no surprise that an event like this cannot happen without the help of donations from the people in the community. When asked about the funding of camp, Samuel said, “We are not looking for people to change the life of every kid in the world – just one kid per year. It costs $600 to sponsor each camper.”
Samuel says for those who wish to give or volunteer services for this year’s Royal Family Kids Camp contact their team at www.minden.royalfamilykids.org., or “like” their Facebook page (Royal Family Kids Camp – Minden). All donations are tax deductible, can be made out to Minden Royal Family Kids Camp and mailed to 407 Fort St. Minden, LA. 71055, or donations can be made online through our webpage.
“Treating everyone royally and like family is the drive behind the name of our camp,” said Samuel, “and to do that, RFKC-Minden is in need of individuals ready to show the love of Jesus as a volunteer in several areas.”
Volunteers are needed for activity centers, grandmas and grandpas, uncles and aunts, recreation, nurses and professional counselors, and pre- and post-camp support.
Applications can be found at www.minden.royalfamilykids.org., and must be turned in by March 1. They can be mailed to 407 Fort St, Minden, LA 71055, or emailed to Sandra.firstname.lastname@example.org or faxed to 318-371-9822.
“All approved applicants will have a background check, attend an interview and must have 12-hours of training,” she said. “All of this is necessary because these children have already been traumatized, so it is mandatory that all volunteers be equipped to appropriately care for and protect them.”
Other team members working to help make the camp happen are Andy Partington of First Baptist Church in Minden, Connie Craft, Darren and Sherry Lee and Dustin Clements, all of First Assembly of God in Minden and Sandra Thomas of the DCFS.
RFKC-Minden board members are available to speak to any group, church or organization.