First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of St. Joseph, MO.
For 18 years, First Christian Church has provided a camp for abused and neglected children in our community, Royal Family Kids Camp. (It is one of a network of 169 camps in the U.S. and other countries, each like ours is run by a local church.) This past Sunday, we commissioned this year’s staff and celebrated the beginning of another camp. Several RFKC staff members shared stories of their experiences. Here are a few excerpts:
Sandy Hamlin, camp director
"It was one of the first three years; we had two brothers who were twins and a sister. These kids were huge; they were really very large for being 10 and 11 years old. At meals, they would come back 5 or 6 times and they would eat everything on their plates. We were just absolutely amazed and by Friday, they had cut down to two trays.
"Now you might think two trays is a lot, but for these kids, they really cut down and that was because over the week they learned to trust us. We discovered that those children had been locked in a house in a rural area; I think it was their mother who did it. All the doors and windows had been nailed shut and these kids were in that place for a week and could not get out. So the food that they had in the house was it, when it was gone, it was gone. Someone discovered them and of course they did get them out.
"The social worker told us they had developed an eating disorder because this happened when they were small and as they grew up whenever they had access to food they ate it all. That occurrence demonstrated to us from the very beginning that we do make a difference If we could get these kids to go from 5 and 6 plates of food to two because they trust us and they feel loved and cared for, then we’ve done our job."
Tyson Huff, RFKC staff member for 8 years
"I think it was my third summer and there was a girl who came to camp. All the kids love to swim, but you have to be able to pass the swim test to go into the deep end. They have to swim down and back once or twice without touching the bottom. If they make it, they get a wrist band that means they can be on the other side of the rope.
"This girl had tried every day and just couldn’t pass it. Ken would have us swim next to her because she would end up sinking in the middle. She kept trying and trying and so the very last day we were sitting there and she wanted to do it again. We said, “Enjoy your last day, just have a good time.” But she just wanted to do it. So all the staff present jumped in. We’re all swimming next to her and everyone’s cheering her on. She swam all the way back and made it. When she was finished, she said, 'Now I know what to do if my mom tries to drown me in the bathtub.'
"We realized that for her it was not about swimming in the deep end of the pool at camp; this girl is fighting for survival. The look on her face when she got the bracelet was perfect. She knew now she had won and that she was going to survive."
Taryn Lamme, RFKC staff member for 3 years
"RFKC is an absolutely awesome experience. It’s been completely life changing for me. My first year, I was really excited, but it also very nerve-racking for me because it was for abused children and I’d never dealt with that before. I was a ball of nerves. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I’m so glad that I did because it has absolutely changed my life.
"I will be attending Oklahoma City University School of Law in the fall. I always knew I wanted to go to law school, but I just never knew what I wanted to practice. I never even thought about family law, but seeing these kids every year has caused me to want to do it every single day of my life. It’s absolutely become a passion for me to be a voice for these children and to advocate for their best interest. It’s absolutely been life changing, and I can’t wait to do it every single day for the rest of my life.