Harvest Foster Kids Camp is a free, four-day camp for children aged 7 to 11 who are in foster care. Some children attending the camp have been in as many as 11 foster homes. Of the 8,605 cases of child abuse and neglect in the state, more than 2,000 of those cases were reported in Oklahoma County, according to a 2009 report released by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.
Ellana Walker, fundraising team leader for camp, remembers one child talking about flunking out of school.
I just looked at her, Walker said.
Shes in fifth grade and she said, I havent flunked out yet, but I will at some point. These kids have no hope.
So think of the kids camp as a four-day vacation from life, worries and foster care.
They come in as closed shells, and as the week progresses, they bloom into the people they are, said Allison Morris, camp director. Everyone involved is a volunteer, and they shower love on these kids.
There are two kids assigned to one camp counselor. The kids are treated to a birthday party, daily crafts opportunities, hiking, horseback riding and shopping at the camp store. Campers can earn camp money for good behavior and can buy anything from board games to Polly Pockets.
My boys came home and said, Memaw, look what we bought you, said Shella Jackson, who recently adopted her two grandsons. They bought fishing poles. They love that store. They love the attention.
Girls receive makeovers and the boys played with Tulsa University football players for a day. All of this costs some mullah. Running on roughly $35,000, Harvest Foster Kids Camp partners with the state Department of Human Services and Harvest Church to cover the bill for each child to attend camp at $350 a child. DHS performs background checks on the 100-plus volunteers and provides eight to 10 hours of training.
Jackson said her two grandsons get to be kids.
love the friendliness and respect camp staff have for each other and the
kids, she said. When they come home, they both start telling me
stories and Id be like, OK, hold on, hold on. I cant even put it
into words. Jackson laughs as she thinks about the kids with all of
their excitement and stories to tell her.
other playmates in their area, her children get the opportunity to play
and have a massive sleepover. And, it gives her and Papa a break.
want to exhibit what a family is like, Morris said. We have camp
grandpa and grandma, aunts and uncles you start to see life again in
their eyes and you can see it all over their faces.
The most popular activity among the kids: swimming.
camper came up to my husband and said, Thanks for teaching me to
swim, Walker said. Its all worth it for that right there.
Campers get to do things theyve never done before, like sing Happy Birthday with 54 other campers.
The orphans of our community are in foster care, Walker said.
dont really like thinking about foster care, but we all have a
responsibility. These kids are wise beyond their years and they can
change our community.
Something you wouldnt expect:
camp brings families together.
lot of siblings are in different homes, Morris said. Getting to see
them make those childhood memories together, we want kids to have
memories with their siblings.
camp day is packed with food, activities and quiet reflection time.
Four days of fun ends with a tree-planting ceremony. Each child writes
down bad memories. This year a little boy tried to touch the branches of
trees that were planted in the past and couldnt reach.
said, Thats your life. Youre going to go so high you cant even
reach it and your memories will stay buried far beneath you, Morris
said. I asked a little girl where her bad memories were and she
replied, I buried them last year; theyre gone. Every camper leaves
with a photo album to cherish time at camp. Next years camp goal is to
sponsor 80 children. Donations of time and material items, including
food, are welcome. Visit harvestfosterkidsoutreach.com.