In Washington state, over 16,000 children go through the foster care system each year. Summer camp is unavailable to most of these children, as there is a limited availability of funds in the social services sector for non-essential enrichment programs.
RFKC is a 5-day overnight camp filled with success-oriented activities to provide a positive environment and future for abused foster children of ages 7-11. The Issaquah chapter of RFKC impacts at least 40 students each year as the staff raises their own funds for each child. In just five days, volunteers host a myriad of activities like covered wagon rides, woodworking, field games, hiking, and arts and crafts. Some of the childrens favorite activities include swimming, climbing the rock wall, bike riding and jumping on the big bouncy inflatable. All activities are specially designed to help the foster children experience success and to feel loved. “We want to make them feel like a kid,” says Emmett.
RFKC started in California and in 1998, Emmett created the Issaquah chapter of RFKC, impacting more than 450 children over the years. The Issaquah chapter is one of 164 camps located across the country. There are also 19 camps internationally. Emmett and his daughter, Heather Gehrke, are the only two volunteers who have been to all 11 camps since it started in Issaquah. Not only does the program provide camp speakers, take-home prizes and presents, and delicious meals, but RFKC also hosts A Birthday Party for all the Campers. Most of the children have never celebrated their birthday, so during this event, each child gets to celebrate their special day through games, presents, and of course, cake. “At RFKC, they feel safe, loved, special… and this week of positive memories can last them a lifetime,” said Emmet.
When Emmett was a camp counselor at RFKC, there was a boy crying at the campfire as the campers where talking about positive things. As he and the boy were walking back to the cabin the boy told Emmett “I was crying because I know you love me.” These children who have been outcast and hurt, feel better because they know people like Emmett, volunteer with no benefit of their own. As Emmett has worked with these children, he comments that it has, “opened my eyes to how blessed I am, to how many hurting people there are in the world, and to want to make a difference.”
So, why is this camp called Royal Family Kids’ Camp anyway? The campers have been abused, neglected, and unloved; RFKC aims to make them feel important and treats them like royalty. Instead of driving the children to camp on a yellow school bus, a top-notch starline cruise bus pimps their ride.
This year’s 11th annual camp took place in western Washington, July 6-10, as 70 trained and compassionate volunteers supported 62 foster children from across King County. Of the volunteers who made sure RFKC could happen, Raechelle Rodriguez, a resident of the Highlands, shares her experience as the Child Placement Coordinator for RFKC. Rodriguez works with Little Wishes, a program by Treehouse that provides summer camp funding for foster families and coordinates the necessary paper work for foster children to attend the camp. Emmett and Rodriguez both agree that volunteering for RFKC “touches your life as much as it does the kids.” Rodriquez comments, “that’s the best part about it; being able to step away from your life for a short time to realize how blessed you are and show love [to the campers].”
Rodriguez is also the co-owner of the Highlands Curves, and eagerly shares how members of Curves always support RFKC by donating clothes, supporting the camp financially, and simply being an encouragement. Rodriguez believes it is a monumental experience to work with the children, “there’s so much that happens in [the campers] in 5 days, anybody who sees it walks away witnessing a miracle.”
You Can Help
It costs $35,000 every year to host Royal Family Kids’ Camp in Issaquah and it costs $500 to send one foster child to camp. If you would like to help raise funds, RFKC will be hosting their first annual fund-raising event for Foster
Children in King Co. through the 5K Fun Run on Saturday, August 29, 2009 at Marymoor Park. The run begins at 8:00AM and the walk begins at 8:15AM. The cost is $30 and on-leash dogs, strollers, joggers, walkers, and runners are all welcomed. To register or to learn more about the event, please visit www.fosterkids5k.org. You can also sponsor a child by donating online at www.rfkcissaquah.org. For more information on the whole RFKC program, please visit www.rfkc.org.