The first morning home after camp is always one with mixed emotions. I miss the camp and kids, but I am also so happy to be able to wake up in my own bed. People are asking how was camp? Did everyone have fun? …uhh.. I had fun but I’m sure everyone wouldn’t say “yeah! It was so much fun!!” I know we would all say it was 100% worth it, though.
I’m going to do my best to explain my week at camp. From the constant daily activities, to my girls attitudes, to the wide range of emotions I felt this week. I probably won’t be able to capture this week for what it truly is, but I would encourage you to spend a week at Royal Family Kids Camp to experience the week that is the best week of my year as well as one of the most challenging.
August 16 – Day 0
After months of state required training, praying, and preparation for this week, the day finally arrived. One of my favorite days of the year: the day we head to Royal Family Kids Camp! This is my 4th year being a counselor at Royal Family, and I’ve loved every minute of it. Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but every minute of camp is worth it.
This morning, our Royal Family crew met for the 11 AM service at Rock Harbor. Our Church family blessed us and then we loaded up the buses to head to camp! On our 2 hour drive, I was in continuous prayer, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. Prayer is so powerful for us during this week.
Once we arrived at the camp site, there was a slight change of the schedule and we headed straight to dinner (camp rule #4: blessed are the flexible!) After dinner, we got to help set up activities and decorate our cabin.
This year, I got to be cabin leader which I was really excited about! It’s not a big deal, I am the go-to person for any questions and concerns in my cabin, but I guess it just made me feel trusted by the camp directors. Our cabin was cabin #1, and we had the youngest girls at camp—the 6 & 7 year olds. There are 3 counselors (Aubrey, Jackie, and I), 5 girls, and 2 support staff staying in our cabin. I wanted to be a counselor for the youngest girls because they don’t know what to expect and will be surprised and excited about all that we have planned for them!
We spent about 3 hours decorating our cabin with banners, streamers, lights, wall stickers, and Bible verses. Then, we all met together as a team to worship and pray over different areas of our camp site. After that, we grabbed a snack from the break room which is filled with our favorite junk food (my favorite room at camp!) We finished up some last minute decorating in our sauna-like room and then had some counselor bonding time. We tried to fall asleep with so many exciting and anxious thoughts running through our heads about getting to know our campers tomorrow!
August 17 – Day 1
It wasn’t the easiest waking up after a night of sleep that was spent on a plastic mattress. But, once we did, we headed straight to breakfast which was at 8 AM. Luckily, our camp serves the best camp food ever! After breakfast, we took our camp group photo and had meeting to discuss last minute details. Then, we finished our last minute room decorations as we waited for the 2 buses full of campers to arrive!
The 5 minute warning was given, so we all rushed outside with our decorated signs that say our campers names as well as princess crowns for the girls. Watching the buses full up with shadows of waving hands brought back so many memories. This is the same picture I have in my mind of the last day of camp as the buses pull away when I’m trying to keep it together because I don’t know what these children are going home to and if I will ever be able to see them again. Now, I was trying to hold back my tears of past memories and happy tears of excitement for the week ahead. All of the counselors make a long tunnel at the exit of the bus which is made up of a wall of decorated signs and lots of cheering. My first camper, Kim (all names changed), got off the bus, met me, and seemed so excited to be at camp! A few minutes later, I heard other counselors calling my name, so I ran up to the front of the bus where my second camper, Amanda, was scared and would not come close to stepping off of the bus. It was her first year, so I understand how overwhelming it could be! But she would barely talk to anyone as we got her off the bus, so I thought she might be a little more challenging this week.
Aubrey had one camper named Sarah, and Jackie had 2 campers, Lailani and Mikayla. Mikayla was actually 10. They accidentally switched the ages of her and her sister, so there was a 10 year old in our cabin of 6 & 7 year olds, and there was a 6 year old in a cabin of 10 year olds. It actually was a huge blessing because Mikayla was so helpful with the younger girls.
We took our girls straight to the dining hall for lunch. We have assigned tables, so we do not sit with our cabin. It’s one boy counselor and one girl counselor with their kids, and a couple extra chairs if any of the staff want to sit with us. Kim ate well, but Amanda would only eat sour cream and cheese. And more cheese. And more cheese. Well, at least she’s eating, right?
After lunch is always 30/30 time which is a state required time for rest. 30 minutes is spend quietly in their bed, and 30 minutes is spent doing a quiet activity. I made sure to tell the other counselors that I wanted us to all be strict about the in bed portion because honestly, I want to have to 30 minutes to rest, too! We had a very successful in bed time, and spent the second half painting the girls nails.
Next, it was chapel time where we get to sing and dance to awesome worship songs by our band, Royal Blue. The girls weren’t very into it, but the counselors had fun dancing and being silly! We also get to watch a part of a bible story done by our drama team. Our actors this year were amazing! Most of the kids enjoy watching that.
After chapel time was over, we were scheduled to swim! Always a favorite! On day 1, we do swim tests to see which kids are strong enough swimmers to play in the deep end. None of our 6 & 7 year olds passed, but they had a lot of fun playing in the shallow end and going down the water slide! Kim kept telling me that she kept drowning because there were a few times that someone had to help her stay above water and get to the edge. While the kids are swimming, counselors can take a break, so Aubrey & I went to the staff room to have a snack and write notes to all of the campers in our cabin.
Next on our agenda was zip lining! Our awesome camp site has it all! Kim and Amanda both loved the zip line and wanted to go again. Aubrey’s camper, Sarah, got so scared at the top of the zip line that it took us 15 minutes to get her to climb back down! Amanda was waiting the whole time to ride a second time, but by the time Sarah got down, it was time for us to leave. Amanda had a meltdown because the other girls that were not waiting to ride the zip line started a wood working project, making a crib. Once they finished, they got a baby doll, too! Amanda wanted a baby doll, and we told her that we would come back tomorrow so she could make a crib and get her doll, but that didn’t sound good to her. We pulled some Royal Family magic and got her a doll to take care of tonight until she could make her a crib.
By this point, Amanda was very warmed up to me. She was talkative and always wanted to be holding my hand, which I loved. Kim was more distant and preferred playing with the boys. I think she lives in a group home because she knows a large amount of girls and boys of all ages that were at camp.
We went to dinner, and once again Amanda just wanted to eat cheese, but at least this time I got her to eat some of an apple, too… and cake. During meals, I am constantly getting up to get drinks or more cheese or a spoon, so it takes me forever to be able to eat my own food!
Next it was chapel time again where we sang more songs and saw more of the drama skit. This time, Amanda did a little more dancing, but not for the whole time. I had to do a “Matilda the Gorilla” dance by myself, but hey, that’s what the camp spirit is all about!
Finally it was time for bed. All of the girls showered and got into their Pjs. Once everyone was was ready, we sat on the floor together and prayed. Amanda prayed that Jesus would tell her mom that she misses her, and I prayed that we would all grow closer this week and that we would be constantly reminded that Jesus is the reason why we’re here! We read the girls a short devotion, the schedule of tomorrow’s activities, and the letters that they had received from all of the camp staff! I realized that Kim hadn’t brought a pillow so I had to run down to the staff hall to grab one for her. Luckily, we have Elizabeth staying in our cabin who is part of the band, so she played guitar and sang until all of the girls fell asleep. It took a little while for one of Jackie’s girl to stop shining her flashlight in everyone’s eyes and fall asleep, but she fell asleep eventually.
The first night at camp is really stressful because we never know what to expect. But our first night went really well, our prayers were answered, and there were no nightmares or girls staying awake in our cabin.
August 18 – Day 2
It got harder and harder to journal my days because I was so busy. The few minutes of free time I had at they end of the day were spent talking to other adults because we don’t get to do that much.
I woke up earlier than the cabin with Elizabeth to take a hike down to the staff showers at 6:30 AM.
We woke the girls up at 7:15 and they were good about getting up and getting ready
Breakfast—Luckily Amanda ate cereal because there was no cheese being served!
Kids went to breakfast club (a fun Bible study), and the counselors have a meeting where we talk about our campers, share prayer requests, and listen to a devotion
We picked up the girls from breakfast club and brought them to the pool
While they went swimming, we can take a break. During this time, we wrote encouraging notes to the campers and counselors.
Paint time! The girls loved it. They all painted multiple activities, and we skipped our next activity, field activities, to stay and paint more!
Lunch—Amanda stood up and prayed in front of everyone for our meal!
We had fun with the boys at our table. They were mixing weird sauces into their drinks… you know, camp stuff.
30/30 time (the best part of the day)- We practiced our dance for the variety show.
Kim got mad at Amanda for something and squeezed her arm so hard that it made her cry. We finally got Kim to say sorry 15 minutes later.
We went to chapel and I danced alone because my girls would have rather rolled around on the floor.
We went to wood shop and the girls loved making cribs.
Tea party time! We drank “tea,” ate cookies, talked in a British accent, and wore beautiful dresses!
We visited Grandma & Grandpa Brown who read a story to us.
We had a little bit of free time before dinner, so the girls wanted to finish making their cribs and start making a bug cage.
We got to encourage Aubrey’s camper, Sarah, to try the zip line again, but she got scared and climbed back down.
Dinner time! I always feel like I have to get up 10 times during the meal.
Amanda ate nothing but cream cheese and then felt sick.
We had an all camp night swim and the huge slip n slide was open, too!
Aubrey got a concussion going down the slip n slide. Someone stepped on her hair as she got a push in a pool floaty tube down the slip n slide, and her head slammed into the ground. She went to the hospital later that night.
Amanda and I were playing in the pool, and she was climbing up my legs and doing backflips. She was SO excited and was showing as many people as she could. She was so proud, and was telling everyone to look at how cool the flips are that I taught her. That was a really cool moment for me.
Another little boy had a squirt gun and just wanted to squirt me in the face. We were laughing and splashing, and out of nowhere, he swam up to me and gave me the biggest hug. It was so sweet.
After swimming, we went back to the cabin for bed. We read our devotion and said our prayers. All of the girls prayed for Aubrey.
Amanda asked me to scratch her back, so I gave up a little bit of my break and scratched her back until she fell asleep.
At 9, all of the counselors are relieved by staff and can go to the break room to have snacks, talk, and write notes.
I was in a really weird mood because of Aubrey being in the hospital.
It is really nice to talk to other adults during break. Everyone was really supportive and made sure to let me know that they could help if I needed it, especially having to take care of Aubrey’s girl until she comes back… if she does come back.
At the end of the day, all of the challenges and frustrating things are so worth it. The little moments that the girls are happy make my day feel accomplished and full of joy.
At 11:30, someone came in to get Aubrey’s stuff because she was staying the night in the nurses office, and then I went to bed.
August 19 – Day 3
I woke up at 6:30 to take a shower.
It was hard getting 5 girls to get up and get ready with only 2 counselors, but the support staff helped a little bit before they had to leave.
I had 3 girls I was taking care of at breakfast—Amanda, Kim & Sarah
The lead staff was awesome and kept checking on me to see if I needed anything.
I dropped the girls off at the pool and on my break, I went to the nurse to visit Aubrey. She looked pretty unhappy and like she was not feeling well, but after we started talking, she got into a better mood.
She told me that she was going home that day. 🙁 I was super bummed because I know it took so much for her to come in the first place. She was also sad that she had to leave. I brought her paper and markers so she could write notes to the girls in our cabin one last time.
I picked up the girls and took them to a magic show. She was really good and did awesome magic while teaching the girls about Jesus.
Next we went to the band jam where the girls got to play all of the band members instruments. They had a lot of fun & Amanda wouldn’t leave my side the whole time.
Once it was time for lunch, Amanda ran the whole way there with me chasing behind her. I saw her stop and hide, and I jokingly said “Why’d you stop!?” and she said it was because she saw “the boss” (Director Jim.) 🙂
Loni, one of the support staff girls in our cabin was assigned as Sarah’s counselor, but since she had grown so close to Jackie & I, she really just stayed with us.
Next was lunch, and then 30/30 time. Aubrey came in to say goodbye to everyone. Sarah did not want to stop hugging Aubrey, which made Aubrey, Jackie and I cry.
I pretty much never cry, but at camp I make up for that!
As Aubrey was saying her goodbyes, Amanda had me write a note to Aubrey saying that she will really miss her.
The girls did not want to spend any time practicing for the variety show that night.
Kim hurt Amanda again and was just not being very nice to the other girls. There were multiple times that she told people that she hates them.
Then it was time for cookie decorating with Grandma and Grandpa. They do a lot of things like grandma and grandpa activities that most kids get to experience, but children in foster care probably do not.
We had a little bit of free time and the girls wanted to paint the cribs that they made. Earlier in the week, Amanda had painted me a picture, so I made one for her.
I felt bad because I feel like I focused my attention a lot more on Amanda than I did on Kim. But Kim was a lot more independent and didn’t seem to want a lot of my attention.
During dinner, one of the boys that sat at our table started crying because they got to dinner late and missed the prayer! I asked him if he wanted to pray, or if I should. He wanted to pray for us. He’s such a sweetheart!
After dinner, we got to go to the variety show! Our act probably could’t have gone worse. The older girl in our cabin, Mikayla, wanted to do a little funny chant to start off our act. Then we were going to do the electric slide to a song, and then finish with the cha cha slide.
They started playing the music for the electric slide in the beginning and we were trying to yell our chant, but no one could hear. We got to do the electric slide for 30 seconds, and then the “praise panel” stopped us before they played the cha cha slide. I looked at the tech guys to tell them it was okay… I was totally done with making a fool of ourselves!!
But when we got off stage, the girls were so excited and said they had fun, so that was all that mattered!
Everyone else’s performances were awesome! People did hula hooping & drawing, dancing, slow motion acting & a push up contest!
During the end of the show, Amanda wanted to be held, but I had to tell her no because at this camp, we have strict rules including no picking up the kids for their safety. We are not allowed to hold them or let them sit on our lap.
I told Amanda that I couldn’t hold her, so she found a support staff who would hold her.
It made me upset that that happened because it made Amanda want to only hang out with the support staff and it made me look mean.
I really felt like that because of my selfish desire to be her favorite, but that was still how I felt.
After the show, we went back to the cabin to get ready for bed.
Amanda told us that she accidentially squirted her toothpaste all over the sink again.
Sarah doesn’t say “she,” and replaces anything that should have been “she” with “her.”
After finding out about the toothpaste incident, Sarah said “her did it again!!”
We all giggled about her grammar mistake, and Mikayla said it sounds like she’s in a old western movie. She started walking around with an accent saying “her did it again!” It became our cabin inside joke that we laughed about for the rest of the week.
We were so tired that night that everything was hilarious. We laughed all that evening until my stomach hurt!
My co-counselor, Jackie had been so awesome. We got along so well & I couldn’t have picked a better person to spend my week with.
The girls were playing monkey in the middle until like 5 minutes before the support staff came in to relieve us for our break.
We went through our night time routine and read them their mail. I also received some mail that was really encouraging.
I felt bad for leaving the cabin with the girls so awake, but we were still 30 minutes late for our break.
On our break, I wrote some notes to the other counselors and to the girls.
We also got to pick out birthday presents to give the girls tomorrow. Since many foster kids don’t get to have a birthday party, we throw a huge birthday party for them!
I got Sarah a princess set, Amanda an arts and crafts kit, and Kim a magic set.
Jackie and I had planned to take showers on our break, but we ended up just talking and looking at photos from the week so far.
August 20 – Day 4
All of us woke up at 7:15.
Mikayla wanted to french braid my hair which was really nice!
During breakfast, we had a lot of fun with the boys arguing that girls rule and boys drool!
After Breakfast Club & the counselor meeting, we picked up the girls and took them to the pool. Amanda made a new friend, one of the older campers, and literally wouldn’t leave her side which kind of drove me crazy because I was trying to stay with our cabin group.
I took a shower during my break, and then picked up the girls.
It was time for an ice cream party with aunt and uncle (right before lunch!) Kim held my hand on the way there which I was happily surprised about.
We still hadn’t tried archery, so we did that in our free time. We all had a lot of fun doing that!
We went to lunch, and as counselors came up to Kim to talk, all she would say was “I hate you, leave me alone.” I didn’t know what to say or do, so I just stayed out of it.
There were 4 girl campers I was sitting with at lunch—my two girls, Aubrey’s girl, and one other girl that wanted to sit with us. We continued our fun boys versus girls fight all throughout lunch.
One of the 8 year old boys at our table was amazing us with his spelling of Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego (did I even spell those right?!). He also was reciting math facts like 600 x 600 = 3,600. Pretty impressive!
During 30/30 time I wrote notes for a bunch of the campers.
After that we had chapel, where Amanda continued having tantrums about pretty much nothing.
Next was the big birthday party! Tons of volunteers came down just for the day to set up and work all of the games and watch the bounce houses. It’s such an awesome party where we have cupcakes, games, prizes and multiple bounce houses!
While they were playing, Sarah decided that she was finally ready to do the zip line! Her brother had also gotten scared a few times and hadn’t done it either. We all prayed together, and then Sarah did it! Her brother was still scared, but Sarah was very encouraging and he finally did it too! Everyone was so excited!
During dinner, Amanda threw another tantrum and wouldn’t eat, so I had to go sneak her some cereal from the back.
Our next activity was the rock show! The band, Royal Blue, played worship and covers of popular songs. We all danced for over an hour! Sometimes the girls weren’t as into it, but all of the counselors had a blast!
During one of the worship songs, I opened my eyes and looked around. SO many of the kids had their eyes closed, hands open, and were singing the words. It was such a touching moment, I was holding back tears.
Before bed, we had a short night swim! Sarah, Jackie, and I went down the slip n slide the whole time while my girls played in the pool.
I got in trouble (reminded the rules) 3 times that night. One thing about camp is it makes me feel like the best counselor and the worst counselor at the same time.
The first thing I got in trouble for was during the rock concert, a lot of people were holding the girls up on their shoulders, which I know is not allowed, but I thought it was okay for the concert because so many other people were doing it. But, I soon found out nope, that’s not allowed.
The second time I got in trouble, I had just walked in the pool area from the slip n slide. I hopped in really quick to get the grass and soap off of me. I was immediately told “I hope you didn’t just get in to rinse off, that’s what showers are for, we’re not in a third world country.” Oh… okay.
And the 3rd time I got in trouble within 3 hours was when Amanda was standing at the other side of the pool freezing with no towel, and wouldn’t take a towel from anyone who offered her theirs. I very carefully jogged over there to save her from pneumonia, and got told no running!! I know, I know but I’m savin’ lives over here.
I knew bed time tonight was going to be rough tonight because we had awesome birthday presents to give out! They all loved them.
While I was reading the girls mail, Aubrey had sent in a letter to Sarah that none of us expected. I cried while reading it to her. I told you I get my year’s worth of crying at camp!
Kim also told me that she was going to start being nicer and that she would let Amanda touch her things without getting mad. This was huge and I kept telling her how nice she was being!
Once the girls went to bed, and we got our break, all of the counselors made memory books full of pictures that were taken throughout the week. Each camper got to take about 40 photos of themselves home with them!
August 21 – Day 5
I woke up in a bad/sad mood because I knew it was a day for goodbyes.
The girls got ready for breakfast really quickly so they could play with their birthday presents before it was time to leave!
After breakfast, during the counselor meeting I cried hearing the stories of other camper’s.
We got time to pack up our suitcases, and clean up.
Sarah had to to leave early, so her grandma came to the camp site to pick her up. I went with her to say goodbye. We prayed with her family, and I teared up during the special moment we got to have. Her grandma looked at me and said “are you crying??” and I said yeah, it happens a lot at camp. But she cried withing the next few minutes, too!!
After she left, all of the campers got t-shirts that we could all sign.
Then we had lunch, and gave the girls their memory books along with an mp3 player with the songs from camp.
Amanda loved her book, but Kim wouldn’t let anyone see hers and then began slamming it on the table saying the she hated it and wanted to break it. I told her that she looked beautiful in the pictures and that I hope she could keep it forever to remember all of the fun that we had!
They quickly gave me hugs, and got on the bus to go home. They made it easy, and didn’t seem sad.
Of course there were more tears and as they drove off, we all formed a prayer circle that was muffled by the sound of everyone’s sniffling noses.
Royal Family Kids Camp is such a great week. Yeah it’s hard, I had some of the easiest girls, too! But, it’s so worth it. We see change in these kids in just 5 days. They learn so much about God through the Bible stories, puppet shows, and skits that we do. They feel the unconditional love around them. Even if we never see their change, I am confident that our camp can change their life. When there is no one around them to love him, we are able to be that person.
Rock Harbor has a mentoring program where a child is matched to one of the adults at camp. For at least 6 hours a month, we take the kids to do fun things, and we ultimately get to be a positive roll model who loves on them. This will be my second year mentoring which is even better than camp! I love these children and hope that my willingness to serve Jesus will make a difference in their lives.