The Purple Day kickstarted campaign to help abused children
By Christina Stock
On April 3, the community came together to kickstart the fundraising campaign for Royal Family KIDS of New Mexico summer camp.
Toys and money were donated by the public, businesses and churches. According to RFK, 39 out of 75 children have been sponsored so far. The goal is to take all 75 children to a summer camp, where most of these children will enjoy one week of childhood that they never had before. In addition to sponsors and donations, RFK needs councilors and volunteers to help with organizing ahead of time and at camp.
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Today, in Part II of the article, RFK camp director Tabitha Denny talks about details of the camp and volunteers.
“It is a one-to-two ratio for councilors,” Denny said. “If we have one councilor to two campers. At a minimum we have to have 35 councilors, but then, we have to have support staff as well. We usually will take 75 to 100 volunteers because there are so many other roles that we have to cover as well.
“To be an actual councilor you have to be 18 years or older,” Denny said. “We do a stringent background check; we do an interview. They are required to give us three references and we do call all. These kids have already been in situations that are not safe or healthy so we do not want to add onto that or put any more trauma onto that, that’s why we do the interviews — it is kind of a vetting process. Typically most people get to go, but there are occasions that we don’t feel that it would be beneficial either for the one who wants to volunteer or for our kids. Because ultimately, our concern and our priority is the safety and well-being of our kids. Sometimes we take some 16 year-olds, but it really depends if their family is there, or we know them from church, but primarily it’s 18 or older.”
Asked how many volunteers have signed up, Denny said, “I may have received 30 and a lot of them are returning volunteers. If we don’t have enough funds, if we have not enough volunteers, even if we have the 75 kids, we can’t take them. We took 60 last year. At a minimum that’s what I would want to take this year. We are hoping to take 75.
“The campers that we take are anywhere from 6 to 12. What happens, the social workers from CYFD (Children, Youth & Families Department) will send out applications, and they’ll fill them out and send them back to us. Our child placement coordinator is Sara Johnson with CASA,” Denny said.
In the next couple of weeks, we’ll send out applications,” Denny said. “Part of the reason we wait until closer is because it’s so fluid with the kids. They may be in (foster) care now, but may not be in care closer to the middle of June. The kids that are ready at that point, those who are in foster care at that time, will have priority. We would like to take all of them and that’s our goal, but it depends — there are other reasons, the biggest is the funds because there is no charge at all to any of our foster parents. We’re all volunteers — nonprofit — just trying to raise funds and gift these kids; these kids get a week to be kids. Some of them had to be adults. We have 5 year-olds who had been the parent of their younger siblings, you have 7 year-olds who are the parent of their younger siblings. It’s an ugly, vicious cycle, so some of them never had that chance.
“Each of our volunteers go through a day and a half of training. So they are not just thrown in. There are so many rules. We train them. They have to attend, it’s a mandatory training.
“We have a two-people-rule — at no point in time (during the camp) is there just one or two kids and one adult. There are always two adults over the age of 18 to see the child. There is never a time where you don’t see a child. That is for the protection of the child and the adults, because a lot of these kids had horrible experiences. It’s for the safety of everybody,” Denny said.
One of the highlights that is organized during the camp is a birthday party where each child gets a cake and a present. “Those are some of those memories that each of us are happy to have, so we want to give those kids those memories,” Denny said. “Some of the other things, is that feeling of love. We are a faith-based camp, but it’s not that type of camp where we lay our hands on you; we don’t have chapel, and it’s not like a camp you go from church to. It is letting these kids know that God loves them and that we love them and that they are loved and royal, special. It is hard to imagine a child never encountering that feeling. And if they had, it was not an appropriate love for some. … For this week, the kid that doesn’t want to eat their breakfast, doesn’t need to eat breakfast. ‘You want to eat ketchup for breakfast? You eat ketchup for breakfast.’ We are not there to fix the lives of these kids during that week. That is not the point, but to treat these kids with love and that they know that they are loved. That’s it.
“This changes kids’ lives. It changes our lives. The first year I went to camp I knew I would never not go back to camp. Last year, I was assistant director and then Jacob (Roebuck) and his wife Laura, who are phenomenal and who got this started five years ago, stepped down and God put it on my heart. Hence, now I am the director. Who knew when I started four years ago that I would be in this position. God knew, but I didn’t. I am incredibly grateful,” Denny said.
Denny pointed out that volunteering at camp is physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting. “You got these kids coming in, and we can’t get them to participate. By the end of the week, when we try to get them on the bus to leave, kids who first didn’t want to get off the bus, now we can’t get kids on the bus, because they are crying and don’t want to go home. They love their councilors, they love that part of it. We have to be stoic and we have to be strong for these kids.
“Needless to say, there is a lot of sunglass-wearing during the week for us when they get on the bus,” Denny said. “If you spend a week at the camp — no kidding — your life will be changed. You can’t help but love these kids.”
Organizers pack as much of a childhood into the camp as they can. Last year Denny’s husband, Shawn Denny, who is with New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, joined the camp, providing the children with the opportunity to catch catfish.
“Many of them (the children) have never been fishing, never had this opportunity,” Tabitha Denny said. “He’ll be out there this year again, that’s our plan. God willing, that everything works out. They do all sorts: horseback riding, playing on a zip line, doing karts, just everything you can imagine. Then, obviously they eat; we have story time and doing all that again to remind them that God loves them and that we love them and treat them royally.
“Some of the memories these kids have. We’re taking pictures throughout the whole week and at the end of the week, they get a book with pictures of them and their councilors, that’s it. There are no pictures of other kids. One of the kids, this is after our first year, he got adopted. He went to the house and brought his councilor — next to his bed was his book. He looks at it all the time. We have pictures, we have those memories, that’s for them. It’s one of those things where the money goes to, because we provide those pictures. they get shirts and get all of these things. We want to be sure that they have everything they need during that week.
“They take those books with them everywhere they go: if they are moving from foster home to foster home; maybe they go home; maybe they get adopted. No matter what, they’ll have those photos,” Denny said.
Asked if she is hearing back from some of the first kids sent to camp, Denny said, “We are just starting in our fifth year and some of them have aged out. When I say aged out, it’s because we only take those up to 12 years of age. We’re working on starting on a program for those (older) kids — it’s in the works, but it will be probably two years by the time we get there.”
For more information, visit purpledaynm.com and like its Facebook page.