The statistics are sobering and hint at what many of our country’s foster children endure.
There are 408,425 children in foster care in the United States. Of those, 50 percent of the girls are pregnant by age 19. About 55 percent of foster children in this country have had three or more placements. A full 74 percent of prison inmates are former foster children.
Although there are many foster situations that are good, solid loving homes, there are others that leave children broken, physically and emotionally. One area organization has been working hard to be a bright light in these children’s lives.
The Royal Family Kids Camp is a nationally-based not-for-profit summer camp organization dedicated to reaching out to abused, neglected and abandoned children who live in foster care. There are several established in Illinois, including in Belvidere, Geneseo, Geneva, Oak Brook, Orland Park, Salem, and Poplar Grove.
The local camp serves Grundy, Kendall, and Will Counties. Its main sponsor is Southwest Community Church in Minooka. Camp Director Mark Fleming, a member of the church and principal of Oster-Oakview Elementary School in New Lenox, says the camp offers something unique in the lives of its campers.
“Some of these kids have their innocence taken away at a very young age,” Fleming said. “Some of them are locked up and left in a home alone all day. Some of them aren’t allowed to just go out into their neighborhoods and play and have fun, and some of them don’t even have their birthdays celebrated. Here, we treat them differently. ... We make them kings and queens.”
The local branch of the Royal Family Kids Camp is offered for five days each summer and relies on donations and local volunteers. It’s held at a rural Yorkville location and offers events such as tethered hot air balloon rides, a petting zoo, crafts like making tie-dyed t-shirts, hiking, a rock-climbing wall, archery, a water slide and sling shots.
Wednesday is the big birthday celebration, where each child gets to celebrate his or her birthday, complete with individual cakes and gifts. On the last day, they receive a photo memory album to take home with them.
“So they can remember that people care about them,” Fleming said.
“We do this because every child is beautiful and amazing and deserves a life full of love and acceptance,” said Farrin Fleming, Mark’s wife and a volunteer at the camp. “These children were hurt by the ones who should have loved them, and they deserve so much more.”
Farrin said some of the campers come off the bus with their guard up, not knowing what to expect and not trusting of the volunteers. But by the end of the week, she said, you see their smiles and laughter. Some will cry the night before they leave, knowing they have to go back in the morning.
Volunteers for the camp come from several area churches and from New Lenox schools. Mark said there is one counselor for every two children.
Last summer, there were 85 volunteers and 50 kids.
The Flemings took two years off a while back to work in three different children’s homes across the country, hoping to be able to bring some kind of program back to the area.
“Working with foster children is really a calling in my life,” Mark said. “Life and God have been so good to us, we thought — how could we not give back?”
Royal Family Kids Camp also offers fall, Christmas and spring programs for its campers. It relies on volunteers and donations from the community and is asking for support through the upcoming Miles for Memories Walk-a-Thon, Dare2Care 5K Run and the New Lenox AMC movie.
Visit www.joliet.royalfamilykids.org for information on the local Royal Family Kids Camp program.