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Welcome To Camp Grace

One summer, my foster sisters and I were sent to camp for four days, though we had no desire at all to go.

I remember our foster parents overjoyed to have the house to themselves in the coming days, and I also remember them having a family reunion type celebration while the six of us were away.  We had no idea what camp was about, but we knew it had to be easier than being someplace we weren’t wanted.

Within an hour of our arrival, camp councilors announced that we had two options:

  1. Stay at camp, sing songs, toast marshmallows and have a traditional camp experience, or…
  2. Leave with a smaller group, and spend 4 days hiking 32 miles through the San Bernadino Mountains.

I raised my hand for option #2, and immediately headed out with the small group who shared my lack of enthusiasm for traditional summer camp.  We were considered the pack who had courageously accepted the challenge “of our lives.”

The experience pushed me, lifted me, tested me and challenged me, physically, emotionally and spiritually and I left knowing I was a true survivor.

My souvenir that summer was an unshakable confidence, and inner esteem I never knew was possible, and so much of that came from the encouragement of some of the kindest, most loving camp councilors in the world.  They were the gift that summer.  Not the miles.

This past weekend, a mere 20 summers later, I went back to camp, this time as the guest speaker.

Every now and then, I am so awe-inspired that I’m left literally speechless.

This was one of those times.

TheTeen Leadership Foundation* is an organization based out in Southern California. which offers support and guidance for teens prior to being aged out of the foster care system.

Every year, 24,000 teens age out, and face homelessness, abandonment, incarceration, and the list goes on and on.  Teen Leadership Foundation programs provide avenues by which the teens can enter the adult world having a support basis surrounding them, and more than that, where they will always find acceptance, resources and love.

I was asked to come and share my story, some creative healing exercises like love jars, and positive journaling, and to participate in a weekend at camp.

And here’s where I lose my words again — because the weekend was simply indescribable.

It’s only by Gods loving grace and through the generosity of others that these weekends are even possible for these children, and I have never met a more powerful, insightful, awe-inspiring group of adults and children before in my entire life.

And when they sang, the lit up the tiny chapel, that sat nestled in the trees on the mountainside.

They were home here — this was their Bethel.  For some, this was their only chance all year to visit with the siblings they’re separated from, and for others, it was simply an opportunity to escape the pain of their daily lives, and renew their spirit.

Many waited all year to come back again, and many will count down the days until they’re back next Summer.

They’re only wish the whole weekend, was that the weekend was longer.

The theme this year at camp was “grace”, and it was free-flowing.  Down by the high ropes and at the zip line, you could hear wild cheering from below, “You can do it,” they shouted, “you’ve got this, keep going!” they’d call out for one another.

During craft time, they connected with each other, shared stories, and related, offering gentle support, understanding and an abundance of love.  There were tears followed by comfort, there was laughter until the tears came, and there was an overwhelming sense of unity and true grace.

I kept wondering what I ever did to deserve an experience as exceptional as this one.

The stories and details will stay with me, but I’ll share these five important take-a-ways:

  1. Children who live in foster and group home care are unstoppable human beings.  To invest in them is the smartest, most comprehensive investment you will ever make.  Children are our future; we need heart centered, creative, strong, brilliant, compassionate, dedicated leaders, and these kids are ready to change the world. In fact, they were born ready.
  2. The three greatest gifts you can give to any child, especially an abused child, are your love, your acceptance, and your authenticity.  Love is a basic need, acceptance is sunshine to the soul, and to open your heart up to a child reassures them that they are not alone and that they are loved just the way they are.  Show them grace, and they will do the same.  The healing that follows in that safe place is immeasurable.
  3. You can’t argue with statistics, but you can change them.  A staggering 525,000+ children in the US are currently living in foster and group home care, and approximately 24,000 children this year will turn 18 and age out into the world, all on their own. Of those emancipated teens, it’s estimated that roughly 50% will be homeless within 6 months, 40% will be incarcerated or on public assistance within 2 years, about half will have completed high school, and a girls chances of becoming pregnant by the age of 19 is triple that compared to the girl who has her family.  Another 1-3% will graduate from college.  The good news is that it’s easy to change these numbers, and through mentoring, camps, and mass collaboration, Teen Leadership Foundation is doing exactly that, one teen at a time.
  4. We are ever the student, and the messengers come disguised as children.  When she speaks, listen to her.  When he shows you the way, follow him.  I promise you, your life will be better for it.
  5. What the world needs now, is love, and loving foster and adoptive parents who are willing to open their homes and hearts to an only child or set of siblings.  There’s no place like home, and had I not moved through foster care and been adopted myself, I might not understand this first hand, but I was, and I do.  I am so grateful to have been chosen.  I am so grateful that someone stepped in for me when my whole world had stepped out.

I will never forget this group of Earth Angels, or how magnificent this experience was for me, and for everyone else blessed by the weekend we shared.

As we wrapped up our time and gave our goodbye hugs, I was asked repeatedly, “Will I see you again?”
To that I said, and I’ll say it again, “I’m counting on it, Kiddo!”
And until then, you’ll be right here in my heart.

*My abundant Thanks and Love to TLC, to the volunteer staff and most of all to the children.  What a blessing each of you are to me, and to the world.

*SOURCE: Teen Leadership Foundation PSA

Read more posts by Elle Febbo. Elle is a blogger for JenningsWire.