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A Heart for Foster Kids, Families

Harvestime Church has not only seen and responded to the needs of foster kids and parents, their county now looks to them for help.
He didn’t want to be there. The young boy was hurting, confused, traumatized by life, and just wanted to get away from everything and everyone. He was a classic “runner” with emotional walls that ran a mile high and his ability to trust trampled to dust.

“At first, he literally would run away from us and we would have to chase him down,” recalls Kim Buckman, lead pastor of Harvestime Church in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, “but by the end of our Royal Family Kids Camp, he was running to us.”


Buckman, who has two adult adopted daughters with his wife, Jenny, says that he has a heart for foster and adopted children. He explains that through his two decades of youth pastoring and 18 years of being a lead pastor, he has ministered to many foster kids and foster parents in the church. He’s also been made aware of their challenges and needs.

“I first heard about Royal Family Kids Camp about 10 or 11 years ago and I knew then that it was something we should do,” says Buckman, who became lead pastor at Harvestime in 2008. “But it took six years (and a lot of planning and working with county officials) to launch our first camp in 2019.”

Royal Family Kids Camp (RFKC), for ages 6 thru 12, is a national organization that offers foster children a week to rediscover themselves, be loved and invested in, learn that Jesus loves them, and simply have fun and be a kid – some for the first time in their memories. RFKC works with churches to gather, vet, and train volunteers, with the church then raising all the necessary funds to enable kids to attend the camp for free.

“In the mornings at camp, after breakfast, we’ll have club meetings where we’ll do action songs, skits, dramas, and share a character lesson,” Buckman says. “After lunch, it’s activity time — swimming, games, fishing, doing crafts, learning to shoot a bow and arrow, and other fun events. In the evenings we have our chapel service.”

One of the keys for working with foster kids, who are notified of the opportunity to attend the camp by county officials, is the ratio of campers to mentors is 2:1. This enables mentors to really connect with campers and help them get involved and succeed in activities.

“One of the evening activities is for kids to write down on a piece of paper something they want to tell God, then we later toss those papers into the fire as an act of giving those questions to God,” Buckman says. “One boy, who wasn’t engaging in the camp at all, wrote that he wanted a new gaming system. On Thursday night, the night we were going to toss the papers into the fire, he was touched by God. He asked for his paper back and wrote all his emotions out in the letter and we tossed it into the fire. Later, we learned that his schoolteacher told his foster parent, ‘We don’t know what you’re doing, but keep doing it!’ The change in him was that great!”

Although Buckman was the original driving force behind bringing RFKC to Harvestime, Alison Amelse, the children’s pastor, is one of the leaders that keep the kids coming back.

Amelse, who has been leading the children’s ministries at Harvestime since 2010 with her husband, Rob, serves as the speaker for the morning club meeting as well as the evening chapel service. She also assists with activities and helps provide relief mentoring that get kids settled and to bed each night. These are roles she cherishes and understands the importance of, perhaps more than most, as she and her husband, Rob, have one biological child and two foster-now-adopted children.

Through the morning gathering, chapels, and other mentoring opportunities, Amelse says kids get to know who Jesus is and how much He loves them.

“As the state is involved, we are not permitted to proselytize — altar calls or laying on of hands,” Amelse says. “We also never want a camper to feel pressured to do something. However, every child does receive a Bible and I will talk about how Jesus helps me, why He’s my best friend, what He does for me, and topics like that and then, in small group time, kids can ask questions, including, ‘How can I follow Jesus?’, which we can then answer.”

Two of the most anticipated RFKC events for the kids and the staff are the birthday party and the Tea Party.

“Every year we have a birthday party for the kids, where we have inflatables, games, and every child receives gifts,” Buckman says. “We also have a Tea Party where we have all these fancy clothes and kids get to dress up and we serve them tea and crumpets.”

Is the camp popular?

“We have so many kids that come back every year!” Amelse says. “It’s amazing to watch how far they come and grow . . ., but it’s hard too. You get so attached to these kids, yet knowing you may never see them again — it can be gut-wrenching at times.”


The feedback from campers and foster parents to Royal Family Kids Camp has been overwhelmingly positive. And after the first year, when county officials witnessed the impact, the camp (which depends on the county to invite kids) has grown from just 17 campers to 60 campers and 60-plus volunteers — maxing out the campgrounds they rent for the week.

But even though the camp may be the highlight of the year for many of the foster kids, it’s still just one week out of 52. So, Buckman and Harvestime took foster kids and parents ministry to a new level by implementing RFKC Mentor Club, which builds upon relationships and curriculum taught at camp to further relationships with foster kids and families.

“The Mentor Club is limited to kids who attended the previous RFKC or are a sibling to a child who attended camp and plans to attend next year,” Buckman explains. “Also, because foster kids experience so much inconsistency in their lives, we work at providing consistency, so only those individuals from the church who volunteered for RFKC can be a part of Mentor Club . . . and yes, this takes a real commitment by our volunteers.”


However, even though these monthly gatherings provide a respite for foster parents and several fun and engaging hours for foster kids to stay connected to mentors and the Bible, Amelse says they realized that foster parents have so many needs that non-foster families typically do not experience.

Amelse explains kids can be dropped off in the middle of the night with nothing more than the clothes they’re wearing. In emergency situations, foster parents may have an hour or less to prepare. Suddenly everything from food and clothing to transportation and trauma come into play.

“We began to ask ourselves, ‘What can we do?’” Amelse says. “We began a journey to help foster families, foster kids, and adoptive families succeed. Do you need something fixed? Do you need some extra clothing? Do you need some extra meals? Now, when any of these families are having trouble, the county is coming to the church and asking for our help because they know we will work to meet the needs as we can.”

The new ministry is called Harvest Care and both Buckman and Amelse believe this part of the church’s ministry is going to expand exponentially.

Buckman says that as Harvest Care continues to develop, the church hopes to one day start providing transitional housing for kids who age out of the foster care system but aren’t quite ready to take on the world.

“You have to understand,” Amelse notes. “For foster kids, you have their actual age, their experiential age, which is typically more than most adults ever experience, and their emotional age, which is younger than you would expect from someone of their age . . . some need time and support for their emotions to heal because of the trauma they’ve lived through.”


Not everyone is called or suited to be a foster parent. However, every church, no matter the size, can look to either begin with an RFKC such as Harvestime did or work to partner with other local churches to start making an impact on kids who desperately need the stability of God in their lives. And although the locations of RFKC vary greatly, kids’ stories, as heartbreaking as they are, remain similar . . ., yet so is the camp impact.

Tom Van Veen, who serves as the accountant at the Wisconsin/Northern Michigan Ministries Network offices, and his wife, Lori, have volunteered with an RFKC in central Wisconsin for more than a decade.

Tom recalls a 6-year-old boy who didn’t want to go to bed and instead hid under a picnic table.

“The camp director told us how that it was in his bed that the little boy was abused,” Tom says. “We would talk to him until midnight and then finally get him to bed. Each morning we would find him on the floor, in his sleeping bag, soaking wet with puddles of sweat under him — he hadn’t wet the bed, he had fear sweats that were so intense that he literally sweat through his bedding.”

But as the years went by, the little boy kept returning to the camp. Tom moved to relief staff and helped the boy get to bed peacefully every night. Two years after the boy aged out of the camp, Tom heard that the boy had been baptized and was now serving God in an AG church.

Lori, who is the camp’s activities director, recalls a little girl who seemed uncontrollable, not wanting to follow rules or sit still.

“Even though we didn’t think we made a difference, we later learned we did,” Lori says. “One of the mentors is a teacher’s aide at the school the little girl attends — she confirmed that’s how she acted in school as well. But that fall, after school started, she told me how the little girl was a different person – trying hard to listen and obey rules.”

Rachel Roelse is a child placement coordinator for the camp and volunteers as a mentor at the camp as well. She tells of a boy who had seemed uninterested and uninvolved — stoic — all week, but the day before the camp ended, he turned to her.

“Tears were streaming down his face. I was immediately concerned and asked what was wrong,” Rachel recalls. “His response floored me and tears flooded my eyes. He said, ‘Did you know Jesus loves me?’ He asked me why Jesus loves him and why we loved him. I was able to share with him the incredible love of God and the love we felt for him.”

Several years ago, AG News shared the story of a little girl who was remarkably transformed, but came out of a living nightmare few would ever imagine. If it wasn’t for foster care, for RFKC and mentors where kids come to know they are valuable and are unconditionally loved by Christ (and the mentors around them), her story, and countless others, would likely end far differently.

“The amount of work is massive,” Amelse says about helping foster kids and families. “Any part of foster care, there are so many needs — you may not be able to meet them all, but to do what you can is important. Every church, every person can help, whether it’s being a mentor, respite provider, just helping for a day . . . it comes down to simply asking the question, ‘What do you need?’ and then doing what you can to meet that need.”

Dan Van Veen

Dan Van Veen is news editor of AG News. Prior to transitioning to AG News in 2001, Van Veen served as managing editor of AG U.S. Missions American Horizon magazine for five years. He attends Central Assembly of God in Springfield, Missouri, where he and his wife, Lori, teach preschool Sunday School and 4- and 5-year-old Rainbows boys and girls on Wednesdays.