Retreat Reflections: Royal Family Kids Camp
November 2, 2018 / By Nancy Murphy
Houghton Royal Family Kids Camp* has been hosting campers ages 6 - 12 at Asbury Retreat Center. By providing one week of summer camp to 52 children from difficult family/home backgrounds in mid-July for the last 25 years, we have committed together in realizing the vision of Royal Family Kids Camp (RFKC) which is, “Creating positive, life-changing moments for innocent children who have been victims of abuse, neglect and abandonment.” The ultimate goal of RFKC is to demonstrate God’s love to each of our campers so they might leave at the end of the week with the Hope that is in Christ. It would be difficult to imagine a better setting in which to do this than the beautiful and lovingly prepared retreat center nestled beside Silver Lake, NY, known to us as Asbury.
Asbury Retreat Center provides a safe and nurturing environment in which our campers can feel safe, gain skills and confidence, and “just be kids.” RFKC is non-stop activity and fun. Many of our campers have been diagnosed previously with ADHD and many have had negative experiences in structured and competitive learning environments such as formal classrooms. At RFKC, they thrive. RFKC provides them with almost endless opportunities to engage in meaningful play. The typical day in the life of an RFKC camper includes three hot meals, each served “family style” with 2 counselors and 4 campers at each table; swimming at least twice/day; fishing; constructing and sending up bottle rockets, some of which extend into the air at least 50 feet and have been known to travel 200 feet before coming to rest in the lake; boating; playing non-competitive games in the field; and enjoying songs and stories at the campfire circle.
The average RFKC camper returns for four consecutive summers, with some children who first attend at age 6 returning to camp for as many as seven summers. At least 80% of the 60 RFKC volunteers and the majority of the lifeguards, kitchen staff and administrative staff of Asbury return year after year, becoming a family to our campers. Often the children mention swimming as their favorite activity. Many of them have not had prior opportunities to become comfortable in the water and are behind their school peers in their swimming ability. The lifeguards at Asbury know our campers by name and treat them with Christ’s love, encouraging them as they become more comfortable and stronger swimmers.
School teachers familiar with RFKC have remarked on the importance of a week of summer camp for our campers. At the start of each school year, when classroom children are asked to share about their summer vacations, RFKC campers are able to share their “memory books”, photo albums that they receive at the end of their week. Some campers carry their photo albums with them in their backpacks throughout the school year, fearful that this most precious of their belongings might otherwise be lost.
Each year for the past 20 years we have planted a tree at Asbury to celebrate our 12-year-old “graduates.”
Casey was a camper who graduated in 2005. The tree we planted that year was called “Majesty.” During the tree-planting service, campers are reminded that God loves them and that they are each part of His majestic royal family. Casey recently completed her Master of Social Work degree and now serves as an RFKC counselor. She recently told us that there were times during her teenage years when she would ask her guardian to drive her up to Asbury, she would go straight to the growing oak called “Majesty” and sit against its trunk while looking through her RFKC photos feeling the safety, strength and love that she associates with this special place.
We are so thankful for the wonderful ministry of Asbury Retreat Center. It is the best possible home for our Royal Family!
*Houghton Royal Family Kids Camp is one of more than 250 RFKC camps serving children across the US and internationally. It is a rare collaboration of three entities: the local Department of Social Services (which refers campers with substantiated personal histories of abuse or neglect); a local sponsoring church (the Houghton Wesleyan Church); and a facility (Asbury Retreat Center).