The statistics tell a troubling story. For children in foster care, twenty percent will go to jail in their lifetime. For those who remain in foster care until their 18th birthday, eighty percent will end up in prison. And this is a very real problem in Oklahoma, where more than 60,000 reports of child maltreatment were reported to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS) in fiscal year 2011, affecting more than 103,000 children. Of those children confirmed to be suffering from abuse and neglect, more than 7,000 are currently in out-of-home care—many in foster care situations.
“These statistics spark in us a great desire to help hurting children in our community,” Allison Morris, Camp Director for Harvest Foster Kids Camp explains. “If 80 percent do go to prison, the citizens of Oklahoma City will be footing the bill for that later on. Many have been in patterns of abuse, distrust and neglect in their natural homes. Breaking that cycle now is necessary, and we have to give them the tools needed to make good choices without violence. These kids are smart, wise and have been through a lot. They could be major influences on society if they get the self-confidence, values and mentorship they need now to help them make a different choices than their parents.”
Positive Childhood Experiences
Helping to meet this need is the Harvest Foster Kids Camp, a four-day camp for abused, abandoned and neglected children in Oklahoma County who are currently in foster care. Operating with the full support of OKDHS, the camp provides foster children with long-term connections to positive role models and creates positive childhood memories for children whose other memories are often of distrust, anger and abuse.
Summer 2012 will be the seventh year for the camp, held at Church of the Harvest in Oklahoma City. This year’s theme is “royalty” and includes activities that many campers have never experienced before such as horseback riding, swimming, hiking and inflatables. In addition, a themed birthday party will celebrate all the camper’s birthdays, complete with cake and gifts. Young boys at the camp will take part in a “knighting” Ceremony of Honor and girls will enjoy a Princess Gala dinner, with both activities designed to increase confidence and self-esteem. Before the camp concludes, a tree planting ceremony will help the children symbolically bury bad memories from the past and look forward to future growth and development.
“Harvest Foster Kids Camp is a positive, life-giving memory for hundreds of foster children whose childhoods are mostly filled with terrible experiences,” Morris says. “They may not remember our names, but they will remember how valuable, loved and special they truly are and felt at camp. Our belief is that they will grow up and break the cycle because of our influence. Many of our camp counselors and volunteers continue with the kids all year long as an OKDHS mentor, so we’re able to provide a continuation of that positive influence.”
In addition to providing campers with positive experiences and chances to grow, the camp helps to reunite siblings who may be in separate foster homes. “One of the most rewarding experiences is watching siblings who are separated in different foster homes be reunited for a week,” Morris says. “Each year we have several sets of siblings who don’t get to see each other all year and this is their chance to have a childhood together. It’s heartbreaking and rewarding all at the same time.”
Changing Hundreds of Lives
Since 2006, the Harvest Foster Kids Camp has served more than 400 foster children. The camp is free for foster families, with the $350 per child cost offset by contributions from individuals, businesses and local churches. In summer 2012, the Harvest Foster Kids Camp hopes to bring 80 kids to camp and needs support from the community to achieve this goal.
“We want the community to realize that doing anything—small or large—toward making camp possible is literally changing hundreds of lives,” Morris explains. “Every dollar raised goes directly towards bringing kids to camp. These children live in our neighborhoods and go to school with our children. We must do what we can to impact the future of our city and state.”
The impact of Harvest Foster Camp can be heard in the words of its campers:
“Thank you for giving me time at camp with my brother and sister. Thank you people for being so nice to me so I could come to camp.”
“Thank you for giving me the best week of my life.”
and the words of the foster parents:
“My foster daughter is a different child after attending camp. Before she was withdrawn, afraid and had low self-esteem. Now she holds her head high and has self-worth.”
“In a world where they’ve been moved around and had to grow up too soon, camp gives them the chance to be kids, have fun and have something just for themselves.”
To learn more about the Harvest Foster Kids Camp, to get involved or to sponsor a camper, call 405-747-0326 or visit harvestfostercampoutreach.com.
Brooke Barnett is the Assistant Editor of MetroFamily Magazine