A Special Review of: CAMP

on DVD in August. Chris Chmielewski reviewed CAMP in the March issue of Foster Focus, and commented favorably on it. The story is a touching one. If you missed Chris’ review and haven’t seen the film yet, here’s a quick synopsis: Ten-year-old Eli has a for Royal Family Kids Camp, a faith-based, volunteer-staffed weeklong summer program intended to provide foster kids with positive memories. Camp coordinator Tammi almost responds that Eli can’t come – the camp doesn’t have enough volunteers. interested in being a counselor – Tammi is overjoyed, and Eli is able to go to camp. However, unbeknownst to Tammi, Ken has interest in children’s welfare. He hopes that his involvement at camp will impress the client enough to entrust him with her money. Through the film, Ken’s selfishness is challenged, and Eli is also challenged to learn how to trust in spite of the difficult experiences he has had.

The movie has been well-received so far; its rating on IMDB is 7.2, and 87% of audience members on Rotten Tomatoes say that they liked the film. It is entertaining, and director Jacob Roebuck acknowledges, “As a filmmaker, people are paying me ten dollars or eight dollars to entertain them for two hours, and that’s my job.”

Roebuck does not set out merely to entertain however; he cares about kids and about camp, and views this film as particularly important. He explains, “If I do my job well, I get the opportunity to discuss something that is important to me, with my audience.” Roebuck hopes that the film encourages people to consider helping foster children and explained that the film’s first audience approached him and asked how they could get involved with camp.

Roebuck has spent multiple years serving at camps similar to the one portrayed in CAMP. He crafted the film from his own  experience and the experiences of his co-workers. Many of the real-life stories are shared by actual volunteers as the film’s  credits play. CAMP is based on, and set at a branch of, Royal Family Kids' Camp, a program with faith-based roots established  in 1985. Royal Family Kids' Camp describes their vision as ensuring that "every foster child, ages 6-12, experiences a life-changing camp... and mentor." The program hopes to “mobilize the faith community to confront child abuse” and to “create life-changing moments” for children who have experienced abuse. The organization’s primary program is the weeklong summer camp detailed in the movie, but the organization attempts to prolong the beneficial impact of camp by helping to establish mentee-mentor relationships between foster kids and interested adults, and by providing monthly clubs where camp alumni can connect with each other and with the volunteers who impacted them.

The film portrays camp as a place where foster kids can have fun and be loved. Roebuck notes that the children are often impressed that, for once in their foster care experience, they’re cared for by someone who is not getting paid. He elaborated that camp is “a huge benefit for the kids. It’s one week, and you can’t reverse years and years of abuse in one week, but you can mark a turning point, you can give a kid hope, you can give a kid a new perspective, a different handle, a different way to view the world. I think one of the most telling things, and I’ve heard this story so many times, is that a kid will ask a counselor, “How much do you get paid?” Because the kids know, whether they’re well meaning or not, their social workers are getting paid, their teachers are paid, their foster parents get money, you know, everyone who cares about them gets paid... When they find out that the counselors are there, just for them, it shows them that they have meaning to somebody – that they’re more than just a way for somebody else to make money.  So it’s huge for the kids.”

While the affirmation of a child’s worth is extremely important, Roebuck sees the significance of camp, and of CAMP, as much deeper, reaching to a child’s soul and future. Roebuck explains that many foster kids age out of the system and repeat a cycle of poor choices. He believes that programs like camp, which expose children to positive, loving adults can help break the cycle.  

Roebuck is quick to note that breaking the cycle isn’t about behavioral modification. "Life change" is more than "behavioral change." Roebuck points out that a counselor’s job “is not to fix” the children, “the most important thing in a counselor is that they’re someone that has this understanding, that I can’t fix this kid’s life in a week. And a lot of people want to. We’re over-achieving Americans, and they want to go in and fix the problems, you know?”

Roebuck adds that counselors who view their primary goal as behavioral modification overlook the truth that there’s usually explanations for a child’s extreme behaviors. Roebuck learned this through his own experience as a counselor. He explains, “The first time I went to camp, there was a kid there named Jose, and he was mean! He was a bully. He bullied the adults and he bullied the kids, and I said, “I hate this kid.” I didn’t say it out loud, just to myself. And midweek, we’re in the pool with them, and I’m talking to him, and I noticed marks on his legs, and I almost said it out loud, “Hey, what are those marks on your legs?” Then I realized they were cigarette burns. And in that moment, my whole worldview changed, because how quickly I was to label this guy, “an annoying little brat,” but then I understood, the people that were supposed to love him, screwed him, and in ways you can’t imagine. You have no idea what this kid has gone through. You’re not in a place to judge this kid. It really broke my heart.” Roebuck notes that understanding the impact a child’s experience has on their behavior can help a counselor to approach the child differently.

Roebuck sees camp as a place where lives can be changed. He explains, “These kids have been marked by darkness, they’ve been marked by the enemy. They’ve been marked with abuse and marked with neglect, and their marks are due to their experience of evil in the world. What we do at camp is we try to mark them with life and mark them with hope. We try to give them a different mark and help them have a chance” for a better life.  Roebuck sees the spiritual aspect of his perspective as very important. If the harm is caused by evil, then God can work against it, and victory is possible. He believes that such a perspective can help counselors have hope that their work will be effective.

Have you been involved in a summer camp? How did it impact your life? Share your thoughts with me at www.fosterfocusmag.com or email me at AddisonCooperLCSW@gmail.com .

Addison Cooper, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker and therapist. He reviews movies from an adoption perspective at Adoption at the Movies (www.adoptionlcsw.com)