When it comes to the strength of grandmother-granddaughter relationships, Jean Seely and Madysen Seely make for a sublime example, but when Madysen headed off to work at a camp this summer, she wasn’t allowed to tell even her grandma much about it.
Madysen was a volunteer at a Royal Family KIDS camp, held for a week in June. Because the five- through 11-year-olds who attend RFK camps are foster children who have been neglected or abused, privacy and overall safety are key concerns.
“Confidentiality of the campers’ names and where the camp is held is very important to RFK for the safety of the campers,” said Cleveland fifth-grade teacher Jeff Skinner, who has been involved with RFK since 2004 and has been one of the co-directors since 2018. “We stress that to all the volunteers during training.”
This was Seely’s second summer working at the camp. A senior this fall, Seely got connected with RFK over a year ago when Skinner came to a class meeting to look for volunteers.
“The goal is to give these children a week of positive memories and share God’s love with them,” Skinner said.
But before Seely could get involved with the program, she had to undergo a criminal background check, fill out a written application and complete a 30-minute interview. Each year, she is also required to take 12 hours of training on policies for dealing with special needs children and reporting any issues that might come up.
As one of six youth staff, Seely kept the 21 young campers safe and happy. She helped prepare meals each day and cleaned up afterwards. She also assisted with the camp’s many activities, including swimming, tubing, fishing, dress-up day, salon day and archery.
“Mady has been a tremendously great volunteer since she joined RFK,” Skinner said. “She has also done a great job being part of the drama team and helping lead the campers in singing during chapel time. In general, she does a great job interacting with the boys and girls and helps with what needs to be done to make camp successful.”
The campers could also play gaga ball (a gentler version of dodge ball), exercise in a workout room, do concentration activities in a “sensory cabin” and play games and work on arts & crafts projects in the campground’s activity center.
“For the kids, it gives them a break from reality and allows them to just be kids and have a great week,” Seely said. “It gives them a sense of belonging and helps them build healthy relationships with kids and adults.”
But Seely said RFK camp benefits not only the campers but everyone who is involved in making the week happen.
“Being at camp really gave me a whole new perspective on what life is about. I’ve learned that even when you might think you don’t make a difference, even doing the littlest thing can sometimes change people’s lives. Working at RFK camp has shaped my cause into wanting to continue into a career that involves helping and caring for other people.”
RFK camps trace their roots to a summer camp for 37 foster children that was held in Costa Mesa, California back in 1985. Since then, the program has served over 100,000 campers in 200 locations around the US.
The RFK camp Seely volunteers for is sponsored by Sunrise Church in St. Peter and moves around each year. Seely, who was one of three CHS students who served as youth staff in June, plans to return to the camp—wherever it is held—next summer as a full-fledged counselor.
For more about the St. Peter RFK camp, visit its Facebook page.