Nebraska family loves kids who hurt through Royal Family KIDS Camp
by Myra Holmes
The statistics are staggering: 3.6 million kids in the U.S. are reported as abused, neglected or abandoned; every 10 seconds, a child is abused in the U.S.; and 30 percent of those abused children will become abusers.
“I was devastated by that,” says Sandy Kroeker, a member of Henderson (Neb.) MB Church and a licensed social worker.
“I know that I can’t stop the cycle of abuse,” she says. “But in my community, in my area, I can touch the life of one child. I’m good with that.”
Camp transforms Kroekers, kids
Kroeker helped start Royal Family KIDS Camp (RFKC) in Nebraska and has directed the Henderson camp for more than 20 years. The camp transforms the lives of abused children—and has transformed Kroeker’s family.
Royal Family KIDS is an international network of camps and mentor clubs for children of abuse. Under the RFKC umbrella and in partnership with churches from nearly 30 denominations, some 193 camps serve 7,130 kids. The week-long camps are aimed at kids age six through 11, all of whom have a history of neglect or physical, sexual or emotional abuse—those too often considered “throwaway kids.”
This year, the Henderson, Neb., RFKC was held June 16-20.
The camp’s mission, according to Kroeker, is “to provide the most bodacious, outrageous, memory-making moments that we hope will take the ragged edges of scars and turn them into really positive memories and to give them the opportunity to experience God.”
A highly-structured schedule with time for exercise, regular and healthy food, Bible lessons and rest is woven through with fun activities such as a petting zoo, hot air balloon rides or fishing. Campers dress up and learn formal manners at a formal banquet and get to be celebrated at a big birthday party—a first-time experience for many. They even get to make a mess at an all-hands “epic” food fight.
Experiencing love, boosting self-esteem
Each experience makes a memory and boosts self-esteem. Dressing up for the banquet, for example, is sometimes the first time the girls have been told they’re beautiful. And the gifts that campers receive at the birthday party might be the only thing they can call their own.
A ratio of at least one counselor for every two campers ensures that each child receives plenty of love and individual attention. Kroeker says that often campers arrive in fear, but by the end of the week, they are tearfully clinging to the counselors who have loved them well. “For the first time, they know what it means to be loved.”
She says, “I am firmly convinced that when you change a child’s heart when they’re young, when you give them the opportunity to experience things differently, when they have experienced true love, true forgiveness, they will remember that and they will be changed.
“I know that Jesus Christ transforms lives.”
Henderson MB supports camp
Henderson MB Church is one of 26 churches who partner with the Henderson camp. Henderson MB provides the camp’s liability insurance and is one of the financial supporters who make the camp possible. In addition, church volunteers, like Jean Regier, pitch in to help with a variety of needs, such as sewing costumes, running camp specific activities or collecting shoes for a fundraiser.
Regier, a teacher, has helped make superhero capes and poodle skirts for themed camp activities. On at least two occasions, students have told her what a highlight the camp has been for them; one mentioned the superhero cape specifically. “It is hard to think that a simple cape cut from felt would be so special to someone,” she says. “Knowing I had a small part in making a positive memory for this one student makes it all worth it.”
A Kroeker family mission
RFKC has become a kind of family mission for the Kroekers. “It’s been a whole family ministry,” Kroeker says. She insists that the family isn’t special, just willing. “We’re simple people. We just go about doing what God has called us to do.”
Sandy and her husband, Don, are camp directors. She’s the out-in-front visionary, known by campers as “Mrs. Potato-head” for her British-accented, bossy, potato-hat-wearing character. He’s “Mr. Techno-man” who helps make her visions reality, whether that means building equipment for a new activity or entertaining campers with magic tricks.
Son Jeff and daughter Jessica, also attendees of Henderson MB Church, have been involved in camp preparation and support since childhood and now continue in volunteer roles at camp. Jeff’s wife, Lisa, became involved when she married into the family. Lisa says that they usually attend camp in some kind of volunteer capacity and always help with camp preparation: preparing camp books for all the staff and counselors, printing labels, name tags, collecting applications for staff and entering them into databases, assigning staff and counselors to roles and to campers, sorting, packing, loading and unloading boxes of supplies and decorations.
Serving together gives family a joint purpose
Extended Kroeker family members—siblings, parents, nieces and nephews—each have a role in RFKC. Lisa’s parents are now involved as camp grandparents, giving the kids a healthy grandparent figure while at camp. Even Jeff and Lisa’s toddler son, Nathaniel, has been to camp, serving to demonstrate to the campers how loving parents treat a healthy baby.
Lisa says her family keeps coming back to serve because they believe these children deserve to be loved and know the love of Jesus. The experience has given her a tender heart toward the broken and inspired her to volunteer to help hurting kids by advocating for abused children in court.
As the Kroekers serve together, they are transformed together. Lisa says, “Serving together provides a joint purpose in our nuclear and extended families. It brings us together, has us work together, serve together, witness God’s provision together.”
Sandy says that RFKC provides both laughter and tears during Kroeker family gatherings, as they share stories and memories of camp. “God has made our family so close and we have so much gratitude for what he has done for us, for what he’s done in us and what he’s been able to do through us,” she says.
Lisa notes that RFKC has changed how all of the Kroekers see other people for the better. “When we see people around us who are experiencing hurt, the experiences of camp help us to recognize, act and take initiative in providing love and support,” she says. “Camp teaches us to HUG: Helping others, Using what we know to be true about our faith, Giving of ourselves. That goes further than just to a group of kids one week a year. It changes how you live the other 51 weeks.”
To see how RFKC has transformed the life of one child, Samantha, visit http://royalfamilykids.org/camps/.
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