Since its inauguration in 2005, Royal Family Kids Norman has grown to host over 70 foster youth campers with the purpose of creating life changing moments for children of abuse.
The annual camp, which takes place this year from July 20-24, was created to give foster children ages 7-11 worthwhile memories and bring hope to the mistreated and neglected.
Trey Roberts, camp director of Royal Family Kids Norman, said the goal is to help make a positive impact in the lives of foster care children. Around 80% of inmates incarcerated in the prison system come from the foster care system, and today there are over 440,000 children in the foster care system according to childrensrights.org.
“We want to show them that they are valued, heard and (then) break that cycle,” Roberts said. “We try to plant that seed that grows in their heart years down the road.”
Trey’s father, Rick Roberts, who started the camp 15 years ago, said it’s important to use actions to have a positive influence on children. He said one of the ways to do that is by giving children undivided attention, which is why the RFKN’s camper-to-counselor ratio is 2 to 1.
“You can’t (provide that attention) 8 to 1 or 10 to 1,” Rick said. “Most of them are 1 on 2, but some of them are 1 on 1 if they have additional baggage they are carrying, and they need special attention. The whole purpose of it is to show these kids that you can trust adults and you are loved for just being you.”
Rick said that cell phones are not allowed on the campgrounds to better facilitate this focus.
“The cool part is when you are sitting down at a meal with them, you really converse with the kids, which is kind of weird nowadays because most of the time when you’re sitting at a restaurant, people are playing with their phones,” Rick said. “We have had some campers that have said they’ve never experienced adults that had that much interest in them and cared that much to listen like that.”
Trey said they want to make the kids feel like they are royalty because the kids that attend RFKN have usually been abused.
“Part of our royal treatment is we rent charter busses and haul them to camp in those, so they have air conditioned seats, reclining seats and a bathroom on the bus,” Trey said. “These kids have never seen that before, so they all want to go use it.”
Trey said some kids don’t know when their birthday is, or have never had a real birthday party before. They give every kid a box of presents, a birthday cake and sing happy birthday to them individually.
“Many of these kids say whenever they get presents, they have to share, or maybe the guardian takes the items back to Walmart or wherever to get a refund,” Trey said. “They get a birthday cake and want to take it back to the room.”
Trey noticed some of the children would look at their letter box full of gifts and not know how to unwrap it.
“One child would open it so carefully so that they didn’t tear the paper, then fold it up like it was a gift and put it in the box,” Trey said. “It makes you realize, ‘wow, I never thought about a kid never having a birthday party.’”
In addition to the birthday gifts, kids receive a handmade quilt and a memory book with pictures from their experience at the camp. Rick said these items are important because children in the foster care system often lose belongings when they move from home to home, including pictures.
Camp attendees will have a variety of activities both indoor and outdoor, including woodwork projects, sewing, painting, archery, paintball, biking and swimming with a blob in the lake. The activities are designed for the kid to have success.
“Some of these kids have never learned how to ride a bike, and by the end of the week they know how to do that,” Trey said. “With swimming, it’s the same thing. They might be afraid of the water or haven’t swam before, so it’s really neat to be a part of that.”
Local business owner Newt Mitchell said having the camp is critical this year because many kids are being abused more often due to being in their houses for longer durations amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Mitchell, who has led fundraising for RFKN since the camp’s second year, said there have been challenges due to COVID-19 this year, including canceling events that help fund the camp.
“We have not had ‘send-a-kid to camp day’ because so many businesses were affected by (COVID-19) and were operating short staffed, had restricted hours or weren’t open,” Mitchell said. “We are still doing the camp, but we need help from the community because it takes a lot to run this (camp) with over 70 kids and 110 adults getting three meals a day and lodging for five days.”
Those who wish to donate to RFK Norman can contact Newt Mitchell at 405-818-9279 or send a check to P.O. Box 6178, Norman, OK 73070.
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