December 21, 2023

2023: Year in Review

“Other churches do this, too?”

This year, that was the response I received from volunteers across the country when I visited Royal Family KIDS Camp and Mentoring programs.Whether in Alabama, Missouri, California or Colorado, my year was marked by meeting some of the most committed volunteers I’ve known. And when I told them I was from the National Office of For The Children, their surprised responses made me smile!

Our Royal Family KIDS Camp and Mentoring programs are based on a model of local connection. Each of our 210 chapters is sponsored by a church focused on serving children in their local community. So, it’s no surprise that volunteers don’t necessarily think of themselves as part of a national and international movement. They are focused on the children they serve personally. When they hear that their experience is replicated in 43states and nine countries, they are often amazed.

I’m amazed, too. The movement started by our founders, PastorWayne Tesch and his wife Diane, with one summer camp for children in foster care, has become a phenomenon over the past 38 years. In fact, since we were founded, For The Children (FTC) chapters have served more than 160,000 children through Royal Family KIDS Camp and Mentoring!

As our staff team looks back at 2023, we are touched byGod’s work through His people. I met Alice, who celebrated 20 years of serving as Camp Director at FTC Lovejoy in Georgia. Her care for volunteers brings them back year after year to show God’s love to the children of Greater Atlanta.

Tom, at FTC Cedar Mill Bible Church in Oregon, welcomed me to camp wearing a silly hat—one of over 40 hats he has collected over the years as Camp Director! He and his volunteer team make every moment matter for the children they serve.

Donna, at FTC Torrance in California, devotes herself toRoyal Family KIDS Mentoring all year. She joyfully told me of the relationships built between mentors and their mentees—connections that continue all year through their monthly mentoring club gatherings.

I met volunteers who have been through stressors, hardship, and sometimes unspeakable losses in their own families, but say they wouldn’t miss the opportunity to participate in camp and mentoring. It’s that important to them.

All told, these volunteers served 6,762 children at camp this year, and they mentored 1,072 children during the school year. Each of these children represents a precious story of a life impacted by abuse or neglect, but now gets to hear that they are deeply loved by God and by His people.

When Alumni Return to Serve

Some of the most inspiring volunteers are our program“alumni,” former campers and mentees who demonstrate every day the impact that RoyalFamily KIDS Camp and Mentoring have had on their lives.

This year, I had the opportunity to meet many of these former campers and mentees, now adults, who told me their stories. DJ shared how he had experienced unimaginable abuse in his family of origin, but discovered at camp that adults could be safe. Today, he has a dream to equip FTC chapter leaders across his state of Arizona and beyond to help more children.

Lanorion, a former camper in Alabama, drove several miles to be at camp every evening. He couldn’t make it during the day because of his work with children at a day camp. But after eight hours of work that would leave anyone exhausted, he was leading worship every evening at Royal FamilyKIDS Camp. Lanorion told me he wouldn’t miss this week, because it had meant so much to him, and he knew what it meant to today’s campers.

Briza, a college student and full-time caregiver to the elderly in California, shared how camp had been a stable place for her every year as a child. She serves with the oldest girls at camp each year, bringing back her own memory books to show the impact that camp made on her own life. During the school year, she serves with Royal Family KIDS Mentoring to continue building relationships with these girls.

I could go on and on. Last year, 353 former campers and mentees returned to volunteer in our programs! The common theme among them is that God changed their lives and gave them hope. They want to bring that hope to children.

How Hope Sticks

When Wayne and Diane started Royal Family KIDS Camp in 1985, they wanted to connect with children. Their experience in children’s ministry--and Wayne’s experience as a pastor and camp leader—had convinced them that God’s truth is not only communicated in words. It must be imparted through relationships.

Children who have been harmed in relationships—those who have experienced the relational trauma of abuse, neglect or abandonment—have a special need for healthy relationships. In fact, neuroscience tells us that human connection is the one absolute requirement for healing! Human beings are wired to be in relationship with one another, and we cannot understand a lovingGod until we have experienced the love of people.

That’s why our Royal Family KIDS Camp and Mentoring programs are so powerful. Our church partners provide a high volunteer-to-child ratio, giving every child the personalized attention they crave and deserve. We fill the children’s time with opportunities that might seem typical to other children but are transformative for the kids we serve. They may get to swim, experience a zip-line, learn archery, or even sing in a talent show… all in the context of a supportive relationship with a caring adult.

Looking Ahead

2023 has been a year of living out our mission. Moving into 2024, For The Children is more resolved than ever to keep moving forward.

Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) is the practical way that we equip our volunteers to connect with children. It’s a trauma-informed framework that creates powerful relational connections, resulting in life-changing moments. In 2024, our chapters will have the opportunity to deepen their understanding of TBRI through new trainings and by dedicating one or more volunteers to become coaches of TBRI in their local chapters.

We’ve listened to our FTC chapters, who tell us that they want more connection to other chapters in their regions. We’ll provide new opportunities for them to connect with one another, including visiting each other’s camp and mentoring programs to connect and collaborate.

And we’re growing! We envision even more churches across theUnited States and internationally holding camp and mentoring programs for children in their local communities.

Our team comes into the New Year with expectant hearts for how God will work. Will you join us? Learn more about starting a FTC chapter to host Royal Family KIDS Camp and Mentoring. Or join our email list to have transformational stories delivered to your inbox every month. The best is yet to come!

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