For three years I’ve had the pleasure of serving at TRAC camp, a camp for teenage foster kids who come from abused and neglected backgrounds. Below are my observations from last years camp — Part Two. You can find Part One here.
TRAC Camp – FRIDAY — Excited whoops echoed along with the sound of crashing metal. Another camper has just taken down a pyramid of cans using a sling shot. While the cans are stacked up again the noise dies down and the steady click, click-click, click. click-click-click, of an air hockey game fills the momentary quiet. Behind the noise and games, in the light of the activity center, a stack of homemade water rockets line the tables; two more are in the construction phase. Lift-off off is scheduled for tomorrow evening.
It is a happy atmosphere. All of the 16 campers are thoroughly enjoying themselves. The first day of camp is winding down to a close.
It wasn’t always like this…
7:45 a.m. – The late risers pull themselves out of bed to start this first day of camp. The early-birds on staff are already on their second cup of coffee. The campers, still back in town, are completing their registration process.
As 8:30 arrives, the campers leave town while out at camp the counselors and staff wait along the entrance with poster-board signs full of stars, lightening blots, and most importantly, each camper’s name. It’s an unusually long wait this year and after thirty minutes of restless loitering the inevitable jokes are tossed about. Finally a heads-up comes over the walkie talkie and soon two white vans approach the drive way. Adults raise their signs and cheer as the vans slowly drive by. But there is not a single smile from inside the vans. This may be the moment of maximum stress for the campers.
Foster kids in general have a difficult time with summer camps. It is not uncommon for kids to arrive at TRAC camp having never successfully made it through a summer camp from start to finish. And the thought of attending yet another camp full of strangers certainly must weigh on their minds.
As the vans roll to a stop, the campers pile out, glad to be out of the confined van full of strangers. They look for the sign with their name on it and counselors and campers proceed to make introductions as they size each other up. The counselors must not seem too scary as a few tentative smiles start to appear on the faces of the campers. Some who have attended before recognize familiar faces and come over to say hi. Soon the empty vans are left behind and the small crowd of adults and teens slowly moves down the winding path. As the reach the bottom they approach three long rows of seats. Seats facing a stage full of musicians playing drums, keyboards, a guitar and a bass. The back row quickly fills up and the last few campers look around and seeing no more seats in the back, settle for a seat near the far end of the second row.
After some mostly silent observation the last song comes to an end. Gary welcomes the campers and explains the few rules that need to be followed. The rules are explained with the fingers of the hand. Safely, commitment to each other, respect, loyalty and fun. Waving his hand with thumb and little finger extended Gary explains that more than anything they want the campers to be safe and have fun! The kids give a positive reaction.
Terresa leads the Crosstalk session. A time of sharing, interactive teaching and encouragement. She explains that the campers will be learning about David and Goliath and that we all have giants in our life. Giants they can learn to conquer in their own life as she and others have. The kids, previously restless, are now fully attentive.
Crosstalk breaks and the campers head back with their counselors for some small group time. There, questions are designed to encourage discussion about the just finished Crosstalk presentation. But as in camps past, the campers skillfully keep the discussion to a superficial level. Understandably they are reluctant; trust has not yet been established. This will come later.
Lunch, activities and and afternoon swim go a long way towards helping the campers forget whatever fears of camp they carried when they stepped off the van earlier that morning. After dinner there is more music and a well received Crosstalk. The campers are now being drawn into the Cross Talk sessions; there are now more campers sitting on the second row then on the third row. Afterward the campers are ready for evening activities.
As the day winds down, the sounds of laughter, falling metal cans, air hockey and whoops of joy fill the air…
To learn more about TRAC, click here.
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