Preparation for starting a camp for foster kids in the Austin area
Teen Reach Adventure Camps or T.R.A.C. was founded in 2000 by Tim and Serena Howell. This innovative ministry offers training, coaching and ongoing support in order for the local church to sponsor two three day, separate gender summer camps for the abused and neglected youth in their area - ages 12 to 15. Working in cooperation with the local county Social Services and foster care agencies, your church can make a lasting impact in the lives of some of the neediest children in your area!
Last month (June), a group of us from BridgePoint went to Montgomery, TX to be part of the team that led a camp for the encouragement of foster kids in that area. One of our team, who has been a part of these camps for three years, had already been at similar camps for the previous two weekends! But this camp was different, for the first time older teenagers (16-19 year olds) were invited and the camp, called Bridge Camp, was to be co-ed. This was to be the first such camp for foster kids that we know of in the country.
A team of about 50 volunteers were needed to supervise 12 boys and 12 girls. The camp lasted from early Friday morning (and I mean early!) until late afternoon on the Monday. Each day started at 6:30am and finished around 11:30pm with every minute scheduled. Some of the volunteers were big ‘brothers’ or ‘sisters’ to 2 of the children and went everywhere and did everything with them, including sleeping (or not!) in the same cabin. Activities included the usual sports such as archery, swimming, canoeing/kayaking (lots of water helpful in the Texas heat). But they were also taught useful life skills such as car maintenance, cooking, dinner etiquette, how to dress and present yourself at interview, self-defense, and healthy eating. Trust and perseverance skills were also developed and honed through several challenge course exercises and there were times of worship and teaching with group “cabin talk” times afterwards. An important theme was to try to show them what a healthy man/woman relationship should look like and what standards they should expect from a partner, and themselves.
One of the most moving times though was to see these young people enjoy a sit down special dinner where we all got to serve them. Most of these children have had a difficult start in life, often moving around a lot and experiencing very little of the comfort and affection that many of us take for granted. They were all given clothes for this event (the boys got dress shirts and tie, pants, belt, and shoes whilst the girls selected a black dress and shoes) which they got to keep. After the dinner, they enjoyed a special evening of dance, talent show and karaoke. It was a spectacular evening. To see the difference on their faces at the end of camp and how they were relating to others, the hope they seemed to have and their testimony of change and how they now saw themselves was wonderful. I was particularly touched by one girl who stood up and shared with us all how she no longer saw herself as “a monster”.
The kids also received some gifts at the end, including a printed photo book of themselves participating in every event throughout the camp. Each person was honored by their big brother or sister with a medal inscribed with a character trait that most accurately reflected who they were. Not surprisingly, there was a tremendous bond built up between the volunteers and it was exciting to see our own daughter fully involved and also challenged in her own faith and walk with the Lord.
Our hope next year is to start a TRAC for 12-15 year old boys and girls over two separate weekends in Austin. There is much to do by way of preparation and much prayer needed for the Lord to bring this all together. Just this weekend two of our team (led by Chad Jackson) are away at a further camp going through the national training process for new Camp Directors. But we are excited and awed by the responsibility and opportunity.