Published in the Rains County Leader on June 11, 2019:
It’s been a long time since I went to summer camp, but maybe not as long as you think. David and I were counselors at Royal Family Kids Camp in 2013. As you might guess from the name, this camp is a very special camp for some very special kids.
All the children who attend RFKC are in the foster care system, most have been abused in some way, and all of them are at risk. I saw a lot of statistics in my pre-camp training, and although I don’t remember all of them, two stick out in my mind – 50% of girls in foster care will be pregnant by age 19, and 74% of people in prison have been in the foster system at some point in their lives. Our Father’s Children, the parent organization of RFKC, sponsors camps all over the country with the goal of providing a safe, fun place where they can create life-changing moments for these campers.
My previous camping experience was life-changing for me. I spent five days and four nights as the counselor for two eleven-year-old girls. I ate, slept, swam, played, danced, sang, prayed, and learned with these girls – and when the week was over, I cried with them. When I got home, I wrote over a dozen blog posts about my experience, and I still cry when I read them. I wrote a novel about a foster child and what can happen to these vulnerable little ones. In addition, I continue to look for opportunities to make a difference in the lives of children.
I don’t expect my experience to be quite as intense this time – I’m going as a scribe instead of a counselor. My job description is a little vague. Basically, I wander around the camp, talk to people, and write stories to be shared on the organization’s website and newsletter. I also make note of any specific prayer requests and send these to the online prayer team that is providing spiritual support for the campers, counselors, and staff.
In 2013, I participated in all the activities with my girls – until I broke my ankle, that is.
After surviving some death-defying feats, including a ride on a zip line that ended with a drop into the swimming pond, I slipped awkwardly off a three-inch curb. Everyone thought I had simply sprained my ankle, so I hobbled through the last half of camp with the help of pain killers, ice packs, and sympathy. It wasn’t until the following week that I found out I had a spiral fracture of the tibia.
This time I definitely plan to be a spectator. One of the questions on the registration form was if I had any conditions that would prevent me from participating in any activities. My answer was, “Yes. I’m too old to run and jump with the kids, and I have too much cellulite to wear a swimsuit.” I guess they were desperate for volunteers because they accepted me anyway.
Still, I expect to be moved. I will laugh at their antics in the pool and as they run from one activity to another; I’ll admire their handcrafted pillowcases, keychains, and scribble art; I’ll cheer for their talent show performances; I will get teary-eyed when the girls dress up in their formal dresses for the Royal Tea Party – and I will cry when the week is over.
About five weeks after my last RFKC experience, I wrote one final blog about it. Here’s how I ended that article:
I will forever have an identifying mark on the fibula of my right ankle as a reminder of my clumsiness, but more importantly, I will forever have a mark on my heart reminding me that just maybe a week can make a difference. It made a difference to me.
This time I hope to come home unmarked physically, but I have no doubt that I will come home with another mark on my heart.