Life Changing Experience:RFK Camp
As I promised I wanted to share my experience a week away all last week working at a camp in Wisconsin for abused children who are all in foster care. I am writing this to the sound of tornado sirens going off.
Counselors arrived in the morning and unpacked, decorated rooms, had lunch, met in the chapel to discuss the week, went around the camp and visited the different places we would be bringing the kids, dinner, and ended our night with a campfire with all the other counselors. In my cabin there were three other counselors. Everyone was either assigned to two kids or one depending on the child’s needs. Usually those who were assigned to one had a kid who needed more individual attention.
Woke up at 6:30 am showered and had breakfast.
10:30am the kids arrived in two large school buses. All the counselors were holding up signs with their kids names on it welcoming them. The kids got off the bus met their counselor in the chapel and then went outside to take a photo with their camp counselor. From there we took the kids to their cabins to unpack for the week. I was assigned to just one 8 year old girl named Carolyn who was very sweet, easy going, and mature for her age. There was a buddy system that no counselor could ever be alone with their children. It was always in pairs of twos with the adults so nobody could ever be falsely accused of something. As a buddy system you and the other counselor in your cabin stuck together with your campers. I noticed immediately as were unpacking in the cabin with the girls our youngest camper Amanda a 7 year old, looked very scared to be there. She wouldn’t talk to her counselor so I instead just kept giving her a big smile every time she looked at me. Then I would look away really fast and look back at her with a big smile. I kept saying I see that smile hiding. “I know it is there it is going to appear any second.” She began smiling and I kept laughing at her and each time I would look away and look back I would joke with her and say, “I saw that smile.” That simple act changed the course of the week for me. Amanda suddenly was grabbing my hand and wanting to hold it anywhere we went. By the end of the first day she was not just holding my hand but holding onto me where ever we went. After taking the girls to lunch we then returned to our cabin to create a chart of rules we would have for the week. My 8 year old camper Carolyn said one of the rules should be “good communication” I certainly don’t think I would of said that at 8 years old and knew she was going to be a easy kid to work with all week. After we made the rules chart we went down to the beach with the girls. I had both girls hand in hand with me and my simple way of warming up to Amanda turned into a week of having her glued to me. I learned both girls could not swim so I got in the lake with both of them and was doing my best to teach them how to swim. After swimming we went up and played games with the coaches. After running around in a sand volleyball court we went to dinner. After dinner we all went to the chapel to watch a performance put on that would go throughout the week called: Journey’s with Joseph. The kids loved it and looked forward to it each day. By 8pm it was time to settle down in our cabin and get ready for bed. After the girls were all in their PJ’s we went around the circle getting to know each other more and said our prayers. I was asleep by 9:30pm that first night. The girls for the most part went to sleep right away. We did have an issue with two girls who we ended up moving beds for the rest of the week because of their behavior.
We were up bright and early. I was up by 5:45am. It was the one and only day they were doing polar bear. Polar bear is going down and jumping in the lake early in the morning. All the girls were thrilled the day before with the idea and wanted to do it. The counselors in my cabin however were not too excited about it but they knew I could not bring the girls down by myself and one of them had to get up and go with us. The girls loved it. We were the first cabin there and the photographer got a great photo of me walking hand in hand from behind with the girls on a path to the lake. After we jumped in the cold water it was back the cabin to get ready for breakfast. Kids loved their pancakes and sausage. After breakfast each morning the kids go to Breakfast club that is what they called it and it was where the kids saw photos and video from the day before and then learned about God. The counselors and other staff met alone to do our own devotional and talk about how things were going with the campers. After breakfast club we went as a cabin to games with the coaches, then it was on to the wood shop where the girls made cradles, bird houses, treasure boxes, crosses,castle, tool boxes, etc. There was so much to choose from. The girls did a great job of hammering away and then painting their wood work after. I think they got more paint on themselves then their wood work. After wood shop it was off to archery with the girls which for all but one was their first time there and they really enjoyed it and got the hang of it pretty fast. Soon it was lunch time. After lunch each day was cabin time where the campers sit on their bunks and write letters, read their bible, or work out of their fun work book. We also rehearsed our prayer this day that we had to do at dinner in front of the entire camp before everyone ate in the dining hall. The girls did a great job of it and my camper Carolyn got up and said the entire prayer memorized on the mic. After cabin time it was swim time. I took a few of the girls out on a canoe then played in the sand. After swimming the girls all went to a tea party where they dressed up in dress up clothes (high heels, dresses, hats, jewelry, purses) They were so cute. Then came Journey’s with Joseph in the Chapel and then dinner. After dinner the kids had a fun fair. They had so much fun going around to all the activities (hula hoop toss, tight rope walk, bag toss, desert buckets, dig for treasure in sand, duck game, fishing game, plinko, tattoos, golfing, dart game, etc.) at each game they won tickets and got to go get prizes with their tickets. They all said polar bear and fun fair was their favorite part of their day. Tuesday night Amanda really came around. With all my socializing with her I really got her to warm up to the other girls where her first night she wouldn’t utter a word and just held onto me, the second night she was the first one with the mic and was a little chatter box. It was great to see her this way. The girls said their prayers, got in bed, and at 9pm the “Grandmas and Grandpas” of camp came and relieved us of our 14 hour day and all the counselors went to the lodge for some adult relax time and conversation. The grandma’s and grandpa’s were older adults that volunteer to do activities throughout the week with the kids like the fun fair, tea party, and always gave us a break at 9pm at night until 10:30pm.
I was always the first person every morning up in our cabin and I was always the last to go to sleep. I was up by 6am and turned the lights on at 6:45am. Due to storms all day the exercises the kids were suppose to go to were canceled so it gave everyone extra time to shower then it was off to breakfast. Because these children are often bounced around from one foster home to another many of the kids don’t celebrate their birthdays so Wed. at lunch it was a surprise “Everyone’s birthday celebration” All the kids were called up by name and announced when their actual birthday was, they then got a wrapped present, cupcake with their name on it and ice cream. Believe me these kids got more then enough sugar every day. TOO MUCH! The kids were all excited and went to the cabins and opened their presents at cabin time. After cabin time it was back to the wood shop to finish projects or start new projects. Then it was on to the activity center where the kids made hats, frames, pillow cases, jewelry, jean purses etc. or played with dress up clothes and legos. After activity time it was boat ride time. For all the girls but one it was their first boat ride. Both Amanda and Carolyn were scared at first but once they started going they were thrilled and were screaming with excitement. The driver said he had so much fun with the girls and hearing them scream he was giving them extra time and of course that made them really excited. When it came time to pull in they didn’t want to get off. They all said the birthday party and boat ride was their favorite part of the day. These were memories these kids would never forget. That night after dinner was a special guest called Mr. Freeze who did a bunch of science experiments blowing up bags, bottles, boxes, etc with gases he was using and he made bubbles go all over the place.
Before bed time there was arguing going on with some of the girls in our cabin so I got the idea of lets play “Simon Says” it did the trick and they took turns being Simon until it was time for bed and they didn’t want to stop. They all went to sleep fast and we were told by the Grandma’s when we returned that night that they were angels for another night.
After getting everyone up we started the morning with the coaches dancing, jump rope, and hulla hoops. Then it was on to breakfast, Chapel, activities where Carolyn dressed me up and told me the two of us were lawyers and were going to a court case. She used her imagination and said I was representing the victim in a car crash. I also made hands with both the girls where I wrote them special messages and they designed hands with me. The hands represented how we held hands all week wherever we went. After lunch during cabin time the girls wrote letters to God and what they liked about camp. Amanda wrote that she wanted to come back next year and if she were to come back she wanted Ms. Erin as her counselor. I was pretty much her counselor all week and the counselor assigned to her was all for it because she had the most challenging girl in our cabin who needed a lot of one on one time. That afternoon we went to the beach and then it was to watch the kids race their race cars they made. Then it was dinner time and a campfire. It was a rough last night since the kids all knew it was the last night. I prayed with Carolyn and then went to pray with Amanda. As I was praying with Amanda she began crying and then sat up crying and hugging me. I looked at her and said, “Are you crying because you don’t want to leave camp?” Through her tears she said, “She didn’t want to leave me.” She got me teary eyed knowing how attached she grew to me and realizing how much fun she had with me over the week. I told her I would give her my address and she could write me and I promised I would write back. I walked away to say goodnight to Carolyn who was asking for me. Then Amanda jumped out of bed and came crying to me again. I went back over and calmed her down and gave her a toy I brought just in case a kid needed something to be comforted and hang on to. She was still crying when I left when the Grandma’s came in. I told her we still have a fun day together tomorrow before heading out the door. I knew it would just upset her more if I stayed any longer and it would help her go to sleep so I left at 9pm like I always did to go to the lodge with the other counselors. Once at the lodge we began assorting photos of our campers. All week the kids who often don’t have photos of themselves had photos taken of them from the beginning when they arrived with the sign next to their counselor, to swimming, polar bear, chapel time, wood shop, tea party, birthday party, carnival, boating, etc. We put those together on our last night and wrote special message in the back of the photo albums. I loved the picture of my back to the camera with the girls walking to the lake early in the morning on a trail for polar bear.
It was the last day together. We got up and cleaned the cabin, went to breakfast, then the kids had a last hour and a half swimming, then it was back for final packing and lunch. At lunch all the kids got memory bags and each cabin found a place around camp to sit with the kids and watch them get excited over their photo albums and brand new MP3 players each kid got with the music they sang in chapel all week on their MP3 player. It was funny because in Amanda’s album their was one photo with the counselor she was assigned to and then a bunch of photos of the two of us including one of her hugging me early in the morning with the lake behind us and another favorite of mine was us eating watermelon. I really liked the photo that turned out of Carolyn and I when she first arrived holding up her sign. There was another cute one of me helping her with archery. We ourselves could not take any photos of the campers because they are abused kids in foster care. However I do have cards and hands they made me I took photos of when I got home that I will post below. All the kids got picked up Friday evening back at the church in Illinois. Many were greeted by case workers from DCFS or foster parents. Some kids were even greeted by brand new foster parents. How scary that must be going into a new home with people you don’t know. It just breaks my heart.
Amanda got picked up at the camp in Wisconsin because she had to leave early Friday after we exchanged the memory bags. When her foster mom came to pick her up she was holding onto my waste saying she wasn’t leaving me. Her foster mom said, “I told you when you arrived you wouldn’t want to leave when I came to pick you up.” She explained how scared Amanda was when she dropped her off at the church on Monday. I reminded Amanda that she can write me and she has photos to remember this fun week and I will be waiting for her when she comes back to camp next year.
It was a life changing experience working with these kids and made me realize I want to be a foster mom one day. I had such an amazing time pouring love into these kids and just showing them a great time. On Wednesday night as we went around and talked about our day we also had to go around and mention something unique that no one knows at camp about us. I told all the campers I was born without a sense of smell. The next day Amanda and I were walking to the beach and out of no where she turns to me and says .”Ms Erin since God created you and knew you weren’t going to smell then why did he give you a nose.” She got me laughing so hard and I looked at her and said, “Because I need somewhere for my sunglasses to rest otherwise they would fall off my face. 😉
It was one great week I don’t regret! Those kids will be on my heart forever and in my prayers.
Just arrived before cabin was decorated.
This bible verse was the verse the kids learned all week and said back to us to earn rings on their name tags. Each person on their name tag was also given a spiritual name by the directors and I was given “Bringer of Peace” not sure what made them think of that to give me. Also during trainings back in April we took personality tests and it produced a different color (Red, Blue, Green, Yellow) mine came out as being a red which meant I was a “producer” someone who gets things done. I am not going to argue that one! 🙂
Hands the girls both made me.
Cards the girls made me.