Royal Heroes

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Barton and Karen Francour, long-time Willow Creek members, always make room for children. Raising four children of their own, they also opened their hearts and their home for fifteen years to sixteen foster kids. At Camp Paradise (Willow Creek’s campground in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula), they experienced the powerful impact of a week of wilderness camping. This collided with what they knew was a huge need – caring, loving and supporting children of neglect, violence, or abandonment.

“These children are abused, physically attacked, emotionally damaged, or severely neglected—often by the people they have loved and trusted most. They don’t deserve the life they have been dealt,” explains Barton.

The Francours longed to positively impact youngsters coming out of these horrendous home situations, but who still had the deep longing to be loved and accepted. Why not marry the two needs—camp and foster kids?

Kids Again
The dream was simple: create a fun week of positive memories where kids can just be kids. Six years ago, the Francours joined forces with Royal Family Kids Camp, a national organization, whose goals match the Barton’s dream. Barton became a local Director, with Karen providing much needed administrative and logistical support. Seeking to act locally, Barton and Karen targeted the needs of foster children from Lake and Cook counties. Three years ago, they tackled the challenge of directing the camp and began to recruit dozens of Willow Creek members to help serve as volunteer leaders.

This Year’s Camp
From the moment they get off the bus at the Lake Geneva Camp, the children attending Royal Family Kids camp are treated like royalty. Each counselor makes a poster for their campers and the kids are regally introduced to each other and their counselors. It makes a huge difference in the lives of these children. These particular campers come from very difficult family situations; some abused and abandoned, now living in foster or group homes.

Yet if you ask the volunteers, who gladly give up a week’s worth of vacation to make this camp happen, they will tell you that they are the ones that are blessed. Coming from all walks of life, the volunteers feel camp can positively impact the campers’ lives simply because they are shown love and compassion in a fun environment.

It Happens in Between
Activity centers, games, sports, hiking, swimming, and boating are all part of the program…yet the change takes place in the interactions between the volunteers and campers. There is plenty of time to talk, to receive hugs, to have a gentle hand to reach out to. Volunteers come because they have a passion for working with children, but they are the ones that come away blessed. Sharing God’s love is an exceptional delight. It is a rare gift to be able to show a child his or her potential – to patiently be with them and teach them.

Coming Back
Royal Family Kids Camps encourages the children to come back year after year until they “aged out” of the program. But what keeps the volunteers returning are the campers. One child, when asked what was the best part of the camp, answered that it was “when my counselor told me that he cared for me.” Volunteers revel in the change a week can make when a child arrives unsure, but by the end of the week, they feel they belong to God’s family.

If you would like information on Royal Family Kid’s Camp, please email Bart at rfkc_lakecook.il@sbcglobal.net. In the course of a week, volunteers positively touch the lives of these children. But many are needed. Each counselor only has two campers assigned. Behind the scenes are social workers, nurses, volunteers who function as grandmother and grandfather, craft workers and others.

Category : Current Events, Local Outreach

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