The Royal Kids Family Camp offers underprivileged children a fun week of games and activities. | Photos courtesy of Royal Kids Family Camp
AMC Showplace New Lenox 14, 1320 W. Maple St., New Lenox
Ticket prices on theater website
Updated: May 18, 2013 6:06AM
Imagine never celebrating your birthday.
Never getting a birthday gift. Never having a piece of birthday cake.
For many of the children that attend Royal Family Kids Camp, they don’t have to imagine. Coming from abusive and neglected homes, it is their reality.
“It just breaks your heart. Because these kids, many of them never celebrated their birthdays,” said Bill Roller, Oswego resident and volunteer with Joliet Royal Kids Camp.
During their week at the summer camp though, the children celebrate their birthdays with a party, play games and “experience just being a kid.”
Stories such as these are told in the movie “CAMP,” which opens April 19 at AMC Showplace New Lenox 14. For one week, April 19-25, 50 percent of the CAMP ticket sales at New Lenox will go to Joliet Royal Kids Camp, which serves children in the southwestern Chicago area including Joliet, Naperville, Aurora and Chicago. Tickets can be purchased in advance at amctheatres.com/movie-theatres/amc-showplace-new-lenox-14.
“It will not only help in funding for the camp, but it also helps us get the word out,” Roller said.
The film tells the story of investment advisor Ken Matthews, played by Michael Mattera, who volunteers for a children’s camp to impress a client. At the camp, Ken is paired with a troubled and angry 10-year-old named Eli, played by Miles Elliot. The powerful drama, rated PG-13, is now playing in limited release in theaters around the country.
While the plot is fiction, the stories in it are inspired by the experiences of writer/director Jacob Roebuck and producer Emily Shubin when they volunteered at Royal Kids Camps. Several of those experiences were shared by Roller as well.
“So many of the stories that they are talking about are things that happened to me at our local camp,” said Roller, who has volunteered with Joliet Royal Kids Camp for the past seven years.
The Joliet chapter is just one of dozens around the country that look to provide hurting children ages 7-12 with positive childhood memories and experience the unconditional love of a caring adult.
All of the Royal Kids Camps are church-sponsored. However, the camp is open to children and volunteers of all faiths. The Joliet chapter of Royal Kids Camp is sponsored by Southwest Community Church in Minooka. When the camp first started seven years ago, 25 children attended. Last summer, there were nearly 60. This year, the Joliet chapter is looking to sponsor at least 55 children, with each sponsorship costing between $600-$625. The camp is made possible through the work of volunteers, donations and fundraising efforts. On May 4, the Joliet chapter will host a “Miles for Memories” walk-a-thon in Channahon.
“Some of the kids come out to camp one year, and we lose track of them because of their circumstances,” Roller said. “It’s an extremely emotional week, and the things these kids share with you — it’s extremely difficult to hear and then send them back to, you’re not sure where.”
During the week-long camp, kids participate in activities including swimming, skits, singing and more. In the seven years that the Joliet Royal Kids Camp has operated, the children have been treated to performances by the Jesse White Tumblers, Radio Disney dance parties and tethered balloon rides. “The absolute coolest thing we do is, every Wednesday of camp, we have a birthday party for them,” Roller said.
The tradition stems from the very first Royal Kids Camp held in the country. One of the camp days happened to be the birthday of one of the counselors. One of the children told the counselor his birthday had never been celebrated. The camp volunteers quickly learned that it was the same for many of the other campers as well, so they decided to throw them all a birthday party. Since then, the birthday party has been a central event for all Royal Kids Camps around the country.
“The joy you see in the kids when you do things for them is unbelievable,” Roller said. “It’s one of the mot rewarding things I do in my life, and anybody who gets involved in Royal Family is touched by it and wants to keep the mission going.”
To learn more about the camp or volunteer, visit http://joliet.royalfamilykids.org.