Tom Akers admits his life was changed after he became involved with Royal Family Kids Camp and Teen Reach Adventure Camp (TRAC). His enthusiasm is contagious, according to Akers’ daughter, Hannah, who is now a counselor for both Royal Family and TRAC camps.
Both camps serve children who have been referred to or are in the social services system.
It was scripture from James 1:27, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress,” that prompted Akers, Cambridge superintendent of schools, to first volunteer with the camps.
“A friend of mine came to our church in Osco Community Church, and shared with us about the two camps which serve the children in this area, specifically Henry County,” he said. “His presentation began with that Bible verse, and he went on to explain about the two camps and how the relationship between the counselors and the campers changes you. I signed up for camp and I am here to tell you, he was right.”
His daughter, Hannah, who will be a sophomore at Western Illinois University, Macomb, first became interested in the camps after hearing Kyle Bobinski, a former camp director, speak about it at church.
“The first time I heard Kyle talk about camp, I was 13, “she said. “From that moment I knew when I became old enough to help, I would. When I was old enough to become junior staff, life became hectic and both years I was unable to volunteer.”
In the summer after she turned 18, her dad convinced her to take the weekend and week and become a counselor for both camps.
“These two commitments changed my life,” she said. “After volunteering at both camps, I was able to see God move not only through the lives of the campers, but through my own life. Royal Family and TRAC opened my eyes to a whole new understanding of the word love. These kids, who have not felt love in their lives, come to this camp to experience genuine love and care from their counselors and staff. Being a part of that has forever changed how I look at the world and how I look at people.
“Camp is important because it gives these kids the chance to see that people do care about them, that people love them and want them, and they walk away knowing there is someone out there that is in their corner,” she said. “
Royal Family Kids Camp is a one-week residential summer camp for abused, abandoned and neglected children in the Henry County area. The camp, for children ages 6-11, was established in 2003 in Henry County, and is part of a faith based network of close to 200 camps across the country whose mission is to provide a week of positive memories that will help change the direction of the young people’s lives.
Teen Adventure Camp was created focusing on 12-15 year olds to keep the connection with the campers who had attended the Royal Family Kids Camp. There is one weekend camp for girls and a separate weekend for boys. The camps are in June and July this summer.
“A child does not have to have been in Royal Family Camp to come to TRAC,” Akers said. “All are welcome and none are excluded. The Teen Reach Adventure Camp is the only one in Illinois.”
He said a large number of the children who attend camp have been in the foster system and said Henry County has the largest number of children referred to the Department of Children and Family Services.
It is not Cook County or Rock Island County, but Henry County, he said. “These are the children the program serves. The ones who aren’t always sure where they are going to stay each night, the ones who sit alone at the lunch table, the ones picked last in gym class or shoved away or forgotten.”
Of all of the campers, 90 percent of them come from Henry County - from Geneseo, from Kewanee and the surrounding areas, Akers said.
Royal Family gives boys and girls a full week of camp free of charge, Monday through Friday.
The ratio between counselors to camper is one to one or not greater than two to one, and there are usually from 30 to 35 campers.
There is always a need for volunteers, Akers said.
The campers go fishing, paddle boating, rock climbing, swimming, play games and each day they have a skit presented based on a Bible story as well as a message about God loving them,” he said. “On the Thursday of camp week, the campers get a 7 a.m. wakeup call with ‘Happy Birthday’ followed by a day full of special events which end up with a special birthday dinner, complete with cake and ice cream and a carnival and each child receives a birthday present given to them of which we often hear, ‘This is the first birthday party I have ever had.’”
Each child leaves camp with a special quilt and a colorful pillowcase filled with their craft projects. They also receive a photo album with pictures of themselves at camp, so the positive memories can be recalled.
Teen Adventure Camp was built from a need, because when the 11-year-old children came to registration for Royal Family Kids Camp, some would be crying because they knew it was their last year.
“We were losing the connection with them at the most difficult time of their lives,” Akers said.
Teen Adventure Camp has been offered to youth in Henry County since 2011. Campers are bused to camp and are treated to a weekend of bonfires, fishing, swimming, zip lining, a low and high ropes course and stories.
The ratio for TRAC camp is the same as Royal Family, the campers two to one at the very most.
Each camper receives a Bible to take home and there is Biblical story as the focus for the weekend.
“I can’t stress enough how meaningful it is that each camper is given a team of adults whose only purpose at camp is to let them know that they matter, that they are special and are loved,” he said. “Every year when kids return to school in the fall one of the most popular writing/discussion questions a teacher asks is, ‘What did you do on summer vacation?’ I can remember having kids journal about this topic and being amazed at the answers of ‘going to Disney World, the Wisconsin Dells, or the Grand Canyon’, but I also remember that sinking feeling when a kid wrote ‘nothing, I just stayed around home.’
“We can’t make the difference for every child who has been abused, neglected, or abandoned. But we have seen the dramatic impact that a single week of camp can make in the life of an abused child,” he said.
Contributions are always needed to make sure that the camps will be offered in the area. For more information about donating or volunteering, contact Deb Burk, co-director of Teen Reach at (309) 798-6782, or Jamie Burk,
director of Royal
Family Kids Camp, at (309)
230-0387 or email rfkc.trac.geneseo@gmail.
Donations can be mailed to RFKC-TRAC at 807 West Elk St., Geneseo, IL 61254. Money for the camp also is raised through numerous fundraisers, contributions and grants.