For hundreds of children and youth, attending Indiana Conference camps is a summer highlight. This is especially true for children attending Royal Family Kids Camp at Rivervale and Epworth Forest-it’s the best week of their lives.
Royal Family Kids Camp is an initiative of For The Children, a national and international organization that “mobilizes the local Church to create life-changing moments for children who have experienced relational trauma.”
Royal Family Kids Camp serves children in the foster care system, ages 6-12. Children who attend this free, week-long camp receive the attention and encouragement of an adult camp counselor and a “buddy camper.”
Epworth Forest has been hosting Royal Family Kids Camp for over 15 years, shared Karen Hand, Camp Manager of Epworth Forest. As a host site, Epworth provides lodging, food, and many of the camp activities. Approximately 75 children attend Royal Family Kids Camp at Epworth each year.
Karen says, “The name Royal Family Kids Camp speaks to what the camp is about. They do everything possible to treat the kids like royalty. This week of experiences-where they are the most important person -points children to Jesus who loves them and sees them as so precious.”
Pam Tedrow, Camp Manager of Rivervale, directs the Royal Family Kids Camp held there. Both Rivervale and Epworth Forest work in close collaboration with the Department of Child Services to identify children who most need a week away.
Their goal, says Pam, is to give these children the best week of their lives. They endeavor to show them that there are adults who love them unconditionally. They are able to share with the children about God’s love.
The camp provides everything that the attending 25-40 children might need for the week. Campers who bring their clothing in trash bags receive new duffel bags. If a child needs shoes, clothing, beach towels, or anything else-they get a brand new set. If a child’s glasses are broken, the camp will take them to be repaired.
The week of camp is filled with unique activities. One day is designated as everybody’s birthday, and they hold a giant party, complete with a birthday cake with their name written in frosting. They receive gifts, play games, and bounce in a bounce-house.
Another night is reserved for a talent show. Counselors work with the children to share a talent, whether it be singing or bouncing a basketball. Every child is honored with a standing ovation as they are celebrated for the gift they shared.
“If a kid wants to fish all day and not attend the tea party, that’s fine. They can fish all afternoon if that’s what they want to do.”
The week always includes a tea party, complete with the opportunity to dress up. Children are invited to don formal attire and enjoy lemonade and snacks on fancy tableware.
Throughout the week, camp staff takes countless photos. Many children do not own photos of themselves, but they leave camp with a photo album to remember the fun they’ve had. It is a tangible representation and reminder that they are loved.
One of the many important components in the camp is that children have the opportunity to make decisions.
Many of the campers have experienced frequent and traumatic upheavals that have been forced on them. Royal Family Kids Camp offers a space of empowerment, reinforcing that they-and their desires – matter. While things have often happened to them, camp is a time where they gain power over their own time and interests.
“If a kid wants to fish all day and not attend the tea party, that’s fine. They can fish all afternoon if that’s what they want to do,” says Pam.
For some kids, camp has been a chance to be reunited with siblings who live in other foster homes. Even if a child is adopted, they can continue attending the camp through the age of 12.
Pam hears the same feedback year after year from the children who attend Royal Family Kids Camp. Their favorite things are the food, the love of Jesus, and the love they feel at camp. Many say they want to come back and be a counselor someday to give other children the best week of their lives, too.
The name Royal Family Kids Camp speaks to what the camp is about. They do everything possible to treat the kids like royalty. This week of experiences-where they are the most important person -points children to Jesus who loves them and sees them as so precious.
Is your church interested in supporting Royal Family Kids Camps? Contact Rivervale’s Pam Tedrow (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Epworth Forest’s Karen Hand (email@example.com) to find out how your church can make a difference in the lives of children in foster care.
*Photos were intentionally chosen so as to not reveal the identities of children who attend Royal Family Kids Camp.