I am at a one week camp for foster children. It’s called Royal Family Kids Camp. The organization has a contract with Child Protective Services, in 40 states. Some of the children are orphans; others simply have no parent that wants them. Or, the parent or parents are in jail. Every single one of the children has experienced abuse or neglect, or both.
Every one of them has experience abandonment of both birth parents.
The idea of “Royal” is to, for a week, treat these children like royalty. So, for example, the busses that transported them weren’t those cheap, yellow, school buses — they were those chartered versions, the kinds professional sports teams hire.
I arrived on Sunday. The children arrived yesterday, one bus for the girls, one for the boys. They are between 6 and 12 years old. The 100 plus volunteers greeted them with cheers and signs, each with the name of a child. This is my first camp, but many of the volunteers have done this since the 1990’s.
It was hot. We are at this beautiful site in Southern California. Pine trees and Aspens and Oaks and an amazing swimming pool and archery and a woodshop and tea parties and, on Thursday, a “Birthday Party.”
Some of the children have never had a birthday party.
I’m glad I have sunglasses because we are outside much of the time. And, at 4,000 feet, it’s sunny all day long.
And, they disguise my tears, which began yesterday when the children got off the busses. To the cheers. More than tears — crying.
I cried for the entire 20-minute ceremony. I cried all day long.
You could feel love. And the boy that didn’t simile or high-five the counselors wearing the “True Religion” t-shirt. Old shoes and old clothes and old suitcases (some only had bags) and the reality that life is not fair — these precious children are victims, innocent, in need of love and acceptance.
I want to write more about the one sitting down during sports, looking at the ground, saying “I’m sad and I don’t know why.” His shoes were off. He had multiple holes in his socks.
The one who kept running away last night. As soon as a counselor turned his back, he’d sprint into the darkness. It took hours to get him to finally fall asleep.
He told me, “I’m a bad person.”
The 11-year old I taught to swim. He kept saying, “Please don’t leave me!” He stammered. During dinner, he kept telling people, “I know how to swim!”
Children are innocent, always. Abused and neglected children, the most innocent.
I have a feeling I might spend the rest of my life finding a way to bring more hope to them.