Our Joyful RV Trip Helping Foster Kids Across America
From empty nesters to roving volunteers at Royal Family KIDS camps
Ever since becoming empty nesters, my husband Allan and I have looked for ways to travel as often (and as cheaply!) as possible. We’ve spent several years working as brand ambassadors, where companies paid us to travel the country, usually in branded vehicles, promoting their product or service. That experience has led to doing something even more fulfilling.
With our background as brand ambassadors, we came up with the idea to tweak that idea and travel the country, RV style, as roving volunteers for Royal Family KIDS, a Santa Ana, Calif.-based nonprofit serving neglected, abused and abandoned children between age 6 and 12.
Royal Family KIDS runs over 200, one-week camps, serving over 8,000 foster children in the U.S. every year. During the school year, many of the camps offer monthly “club” meetings so volunteers can maintain contact with the children through pizza parties and other fun activities.
Making the CEO an Offer
We’d volunteered with a Royal Family KIDS camp in our hometown of Bellingham, Wash., and were impressed with the quality of the camps. So we contacted CEO Chris Carmichael and made him a simple offer: Allan and I would buy an RV and crisscross the country volunteering for six months — visiting camps, training staff in creative activities and assisting with Royal Family KIDS events such as fundraisers. It seemed a perfect fit, since I’ve spent the last 25 years traveling around the world giving presentations on helping children gain resilience through innovative activities.
Fortunately, Carmichael loved the idea and within two months, we found ourselves in Southern California, getting our plain white RV “wrapped” and transformed into a rolling billboard for Royal Family.
Now we can’t buy gas for it without someone asking, “What is Royal Family and why are you driving this cool looking RV?” Of course that gives us the ideal opportunity to talk about the fun and safe time foster kids have at the camps.
What These Kids Want and Need
The Royal Family kids have different needs, requests and habits than you might find at other camps. Sometimes, they don’t want to take off their long-sleeved shirts for swim time. The counselors understand that’s because many come to camp with scars and burns on their bodies from abuse. Other campers hoard food, because they’ve grown accustomed to never being sure when they’ll have another meal. Royal Family KIDS’ Camps solve that problem with its “All the bacon you can eat!” policy.
Many children at camp have never experienced a birthday celebration. So each camp sets aside one night to throw an “Everybody’s Birthday” party, complete with cake, balloons, games and, of course, presents. It’s hard not to ache in your heart when a young camper holds a new toy and says, “This is the first birthday present I’ve ever had!”
Driving from state to state gives us the chance to help out in a variety of ways. In Roswell, N.M, we participated in a toy drive where community members donated over 300 gifts. In Cedar Hill, Texas we trained 125 counselors on a variety of games, crafts and activities to do with their campers during free time. A Lion’s Club in Santa Ana, Calif. asked for a presentation, so we shared how their group could help these children.
Surprising People, Publishers Clearing House Style
Other times, we give TV interviews. The most fun is when we do that while honoring local Royal Family KIDS’ volunteers. In our best Publishers Clearing House style, we drive the RV to a volunteer’s home or workplace, honking the horn to draw a big crowd. The volunteers are totally amazed to come outside and see their name on the side of the RV, acknowledging them for all their hard work.
This volunteering assignment has also been a great fit for other work I do. My latest books, Millennials vs. Boomers and Boomers vs. Millennials, deal with Millennials in the workplace and working with Millennial volunteers connected with Royal Family provides me with first-hand experience alongside enthusiastic young adults.
Once camps are in session, we’ll transform the RV into the “Fun-Mobile.” We have props and supplies to play parachute games, and perform silly skits. To tie in with each camp’s Olympic theme, campers will get their picture taken with an actual Olympic torch that I carried for the 2002 Olympics in Seattle.
What the Kids and We Get
Children leave camp with new skills and a stronger feeling about their self-worth. As for Allan and me, we’re not only traveling, but traveling with the purpose of helping kids experience a week of s’mores, tea parties and tailgate parties, all surrounded by positive adult role models.
When this tour ends in September, we’ll look again for paid positions as brand ambassadors. That way we can save up enough money to volunteer for another nonprofit in the future sometime soon.