Every summer, I would always look forward to camp. It was a vacation from reality and a chance to be completely yourself.
But...there was this one camp I went to as a child which helped become who I am today.
The ministry, known as “ Our Father’s Children,” sets up three types of camps for different aged foster children. I started with the Royal Family Kids Camp, which is for seven to 12-year-olds, a week-long camp for foster children to gain the “missing pieces of childhood” and learn about God’s Plan.
Once a child is old enough to complete the RFKC camp, they can go to the Onward and Upward program, which is for ages 13-15 and primarily focuses on positive character traits. Then, once a camper completes the Onward and Upward Retreats, they can then move on to the Summit Retreats, which is for 16-18-year-olds, primarily focusing on life skills.
With all of the different programs having a small one to two camper to Camp Counselor ratio, it provides more focus on the campers so they can live a successful life.
I went to a Royal Family Kids Camp as a child and going to that camp changed my life. Then, my perspective as a camper changed further when I became a Counselor.
After going to a two-night training, I understood why the staff and counselors do some of the things they do. One aspect that kept replaying in my head was, “There’s a reason for everything”.
At the training, we learned the three values of RFKC which include: treat people with royalty, make moments matter and keep moving forward.
At first, I was thinking about taking a greyhound bus to camp. Then, I was thinking at camp that someone could take me back home. The only downside to that was that I had to pay out of pocket, it's not direct and it limited how much stuff I was able to pack.
After talking with the Camp Director and Assistant Camp Director, we found out that my buddy Counselor was willing for me to carpool to camp. At that point, I thought, “If there's a way, it is meant to be”.
A week and a half later, I spent the night before camp at my fellow counselor's house. Then, the next day, we started making our way to camp. Once we arrived at the campsite, we settled in and met our other fellow counselor who helped us during the course of the week. We got everything unpacked and decorated the room to fit the jungle theme.
The only thing left to do was work on the outside door name sign for the kids.
The next day, final preparations and reminders were made prior to the campers arrival. Later on, the campers arrived on buses (however, the buses came earlier than expected). That’s when the real adventure began!
Once the campers arrived at camp I got to meet my camper. We went to our lodging to unpack and unwind until lunch. Then, our camp activities officially began.
During the course of the week, we did various activities, such as swimming, making crafts, playing games etc. Intermixed with all that fun, there were still times where it got serious. Times where we learned the story of Joseph during chapel or had a teachable moment (and there were plenty of those during the week, both for the camper and myself).
The camper I had was one of the cutest campers I had ever met. The more I was able to get to know him, the more of myself I was able to see in him. There were times that he was stubborn, but that is what made the experience an adventure for both of us.
During the course of the week, I had some teachable moments. Like the time I let him swim alone so he could learn and eventually pass the swim test. When we learned about nature, how to build a campfire and cook hot dogs and s'mores over it.
But the biggest teachable moment of all was when my camper overcame his fear of heights, also known as a “break through”. So, it was what the camp referred to as the “Everybody Birthday Party.” They had bounce houses, face painting and other party activities. I saw the rock climbing tower, and I asked him, "Do you want to climb the tower?", and he said no.
He explained that although he is scared of heights, he had attempted to climb the tower last year and didn’t make it. So, I explained, "you can’t score unless you try”. Eventually, after some explanation and party games, I convinced him to do it.
But, there was a catch: I had to do it with him, which I was fine with. So, we climbed up the tower, he made it half way, but I made it to the top. After we got done climbing, I told him that at least he tried.
Then, we had a dance party, sang "Happy Birthday" and we gave them all a mp3 player of the songs at camp.
As the kids were getting ready for bed and the counselors were about to head to the break room, the most adorable thing was said before I left, “Goodnight, I love you!” as he hugged me.
That made my week, it showed me that I did something to gain his trust.
However, the week wasn’t over yet. For the rest of the week, we played more games, made more crafts and had a variety show (which was basically a talent show).
With all the fun and stubbornness, the week finally came to a close. As we packed up our belongings, the typical “camp-sickness” started to kick in. That feeling that people usually get when they start to leave camp starts to slowly settle in as the end nears.
But in the end, it was time to leave. It was time for the kids to go back into their foster lives, and us staff and volunteers to go back to our everyday "adulting" lives. As we headed to our final meal at camp, we had a prayer for the kids to have a great, successful life under God’s plan. After lunch, I walked my camper to the bus. There we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.
This experience changed my life. Unlike last summer, I was a Camp Counselor at a different camp, this camp had a huge impact on who I am.
This was my first time being a Camp Counselor, and it was an amazing experience. Not knowing what to expect being a former camper, the tables had turned. I got to see both sides: as a camper and as a camp counselor.
I grew up going to this camp, and after experiencing what it is like being a counselor, it gave me more appreciation for the counselors. People think they have the easy job at RFKC if you're taking care of the kids, and that’s partially true, but it's not as easy as it sounds. As a counselor, I had to make sure that the campers' needs were met while providing them with a sense of security and protection.
There were times when it was hard, especially enforcing discipline upon my camper. But, with my help, and that of my buddy counselors, I learned a lot about taking care of these kids.
I have learned that there’s a reason for everything. That every camper has a life story. One thing I reinforced to my camper was that “you won’t know what happens unless you try”.
With that being said, I also learned a bit more about myself. One thing I also learned is that if something is part of God’s plan, he will make a way for you, no matter what.
There is a famous song that is always played at camp called "I Will Change Your Name". These campers have a hard time identifying themselves based on their previous situations. Here are the lyrics:
"I will change your name
You Shall no longer be Called:
Wounded, Outcast, Lonely or afraid.
I will change your name.
Your new name shall be,
Confidence, Joyfulness, overcoming one,
Faithfulness, friend of God,
One who seeks my face."
(Written by D.J. Butler)
When these kids come to camp on day one, they have that sense of insecurity. They feel wounded, outcast, lonely or even afraid. But camp is a safe place, and during the course of the week, we have shown these kids that they don't have to worry about the struggles and strife. They can be confident, joyful, one who overcomes, faithful and a friend to God. This song was based on Revelation 2:17, where it talks about getting a new stone with a new name from God himself.
That is why this week we focused on Joseph's Journey, to show that God has a plan for everybody. All we have to do is trust him to do what's right, even when life is in the pits. This story also shows us that it's always better to forgive than to seek revenge because it's the good thing to do.
Throughout the experience, I made friends with both staff and campers, and I had a good time while changing the lives of foster children. But this journey is just the beginning.
Will I do this again?
Without a doubt, YES! This made my crazy summer experience even more meaningful. I plan on returning to RFKC next summer to volunteer as a counselor, possibly for all three camp sessions. Not only would I want to return, but I know my campers would want me to return as well.
My advice for those who want to be an RFKC Counselor:
These kids are not your typical kids. These kids are coming from situations they have no control over. Watch the Movie Camp and you can get an experience of what it is like as a counselor to foster children.