Royal Family KIDS Camps, Inc., is a network of camps for abused, abandoned and neglected children in the foster care system. Founded in 1985, the organization’s goal for each location is to create life-changing memories by demonstrating the power of love to children coming from difficult environments.
There are currently eight such camps throughout Colorado, in excess of 200 across the United States, and more worldwide in Australia, Wales, South Africa, Chile, Namibia and Ghana.
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Locally, Timberline Church facilitates two Royal Family KIDS Camps (RFKC) serving foster children in Larimer and Weld counties. The fellowship will host a combined total of 92 youngsters cared for by 150 full-time volunteers, stated Camp Director Sean Risatti. He explained the process by which foster children are selected to become campers.
“We lean on the Child Protective Service workers to determine who gets to come to camp. They know the families and the situations best and who needs camp the most; many are returning campers. DHS (Department of Human Services) currently has a waiting list of those who would like to come. Some of these kids have been sexually abused by their own parents, thrown against a wall, abandoned at hotels, locked in a closet, etc. I would never have thought this was happening in our county, but these kids are staring at me with a story that did happen in our community. This is our community and we feel convicted to confront these atrocities through this camp and mentoring.”
For one week in June, each child, ages 7-12, will enjoy a group birthday party with a personalized gift; attend a carnival with games and prizes; participate in activities including sports, painting, water slides, archery, singing, dancing, tea parties, swimming, and rock wall climbing; and perform in a variety talent show. Risatti admitted those talents vary and can be quite tongue-in-cheek but declared it’s the way people applaud for one another that’s most memorable.
“Seeing kids who have been marginalized receive these loud ovations and the way it is received will move you to tears,” declared Risatti. “Last year, a smiling girl who’d been in eight different foster homes in the six months prior to camp drew and shared a picture of herself at camp with new friends. She couldn’t get the smile off her face…and I couldn’t get the tears out of my eyes.”
He added that RFKC is far more than just a temporary comfort or brief diversion. “There are about 120 kids in foster care in Larimer County alone. It is our goal that someday all of them will have the option to go to camp each summer. I remember that the first day of school when I was a kid was filled with stories about ‘What I did this summer.’ For those who have been abused, neglected, and/or abandoned, I can’t imagine how they feel in those moments, wanting to escape from having to talk about what happened to them over the summer. If those same kids can feel proud and normalized and say they went to camp, had a carnival, a birthday party, a lazy river pool, and ‘I made so many friends. It was awesome!’, then volunteering for this camp is time well-spent!” he concluded.
Risatti added, “We try to pack in as much fun and affirmation as possible in an attempt to remind them that they are loved and to make moments and memories that replace heartbreak.”
KFKC has a 2-to-1 guide-to-camper ratio, plus another 30+ member support staff, so there’s no shortage of individual attention. Volunteers are extensively trained with a simple formula, explained Risatti.
He said, “We love these kids unconditionally for one full week. We affirm them, we let them know they are seen, heard and valued. When you take that approach through a birthday party with kids who don’t get their birthdays remembered, or by a carnival and all kinds of fun stuff, it’s no surprise that there are lots of smiles; and the tears are only of joy.”
This will be just the third year for the camps in Larimer and Weld counties, but RFKC has already had great feedback from foster families, DHS and the kids. A mentoring program for children from the roster of older campers has been established. Each month, 13 mentors get together with those kids to continue encouraging them. For example, the group spent a day ice skating and tubing at Beaver Meadows in January 2018.
“When I was meeting with these kids at their homes last fall to arrange the mentoring program, I was met with their photo albums [memory books] and framed pictures of them with their guides/camp counselors,” Risatti recalled. “We have also had an adoption at camp and currently eight kids are being fostered or being provided respite care by our volunteers. College kids have changed their majors, and families are inviting neglected and/or abused kids into their home. It has been as transformational for the staff as it has been for the kids,” he added.
More information about Royal Family KIDS Camps can be found at http://fortcollins.royalfamilykids.org