Cousins Stephen Drake and Stephen Wright are spearheading an effort next month to send a group of abused and neglected children to summer camp through the Royal Family Kids Camp program.
During the entire month of April, which is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, the two Stephens will hold a fundraiser with the help of some local businesses. Proceeds will fund a camp trip for children from across the state between the ages of 7 and 11, who are currently in the custody of Social Services. Drake and Wright both began volunteering as counselors for the program two years ago, making this year their third.
Many of the children, Wright said, have never experienced a proper summer vacation. “We are trying to plant a seed of something positive in a child’s life, who have never had anything positive before,” said Wright. “Many of them have never had any encouragement or anything like that from anyone other than a social worker, for most of their life.”
According to Drake, the Royal Family Kids Camp program, founded in 1985, is not sponsored or endorsed by European monarchs. What makes it “Royal,” aside from a Christian influenced connotation, is the treatment it offers the campers. “There is a connotation in the word that gives it an extremely desirable effect,” he said. “Most of these kids have never been given the royal treatment before. That’s what this camp does.”
For one week at a nearby camp in the region, campers will experience all of the excitements of summer camp, including campfires, s’mores, carnival prizes, outdoor sports and activities, paddle boats, fishing, tie dying and—everyone gets a birthday. “Some of these kids have never even had a decent birthday party,” noted Wright.
Last year, the Franklin volunteers were able to sponsor 20 campers. “This year we’re hoping to sponsor 20, and if we have enough counselors, we’re hoping to expand that to 30 children,” said Wright, adding that the program allows two children for every counselor. Already ten counselors have signed up. They need five more if they want to reach their goal of 30 campers.
While searching for counselors during April, they will also be collecting donations, as the cost of the camp is high. “We need about $27,000,” he said. The cost per child is $500 after camp and administrative fees. The two have already raised approximately $2,400 on their own doing odd jobs, offering their services to further their fundraising efforts.
Businesses throughout Franklin are giving out coupons for four restaurants — Dairy Queen, Fat Buddies, Main Street Pizza and Elmore’s Fish Fry. The discounted amount of money goes toward funding the program. “If you eat at one of these places, turn in your receipt with this coupon. The discount that you would have gotten goes to Royal Family Kids,” said Wright.
“We’re providing an experience these kids never would have been able to have otherwise in their current condition and situation,” said Drake. “There’s no chance of them having the opportunities and experiences that they have at this week of camp.”