A Family Mission
Wayne and Diane Tesch have changed thousands of foster children’s lives through Royal Family Kids
According to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, "an estimated 686,000 children were victims of abuse and neglect nationwide" in 2012. In other words, on average, a child is neglected or abused in America every 46 seconds. Approximately 78.3 percent of these children suffer neglect, 18.3 percent physical abuse, 9.3 percent sexual abuse and 8.5 percent psychological abuse.
Wayne and Diane Tesch didn't know those statistics in 1985 when they started the first Royal Family Kids camp at Newport-Mesa Christian Center (now Newport-Mesa Church) in Costa Mesa, California. Indeed, the concepts of neglect and abuse were barely even on the radar of children's ministries in those days. But when a colleague suggested holding a camp for children in the foster care system, the idea resonated with the couple. "There are some things you don't even need to pray about," Wayne says. "The need is there. Just do it."
"The need is there. Just do it."
Thirty-seven kids and 22 staff members headed off for what was supposed to be a week of fun in the San Bernadino mountains. By Wednesday, the staff was exhausted, and the Tesches were discouraged. They weren't used to breaking up fights between elementary-aged kids or having profanities screamed at them.
Then, a close friend drove up the mountain to deliver a word of encouragement in person. "You're doing what God wants you to do," the friend told Wayne. "He's got everything under control." The Tesches credit that word with giving them the emotional strength to keep going.
Five years later, Wayne resigned his 18-year position on staff at Newport-Mesa and together, he and Diane founded Royal Family with the goal of starting a camp for foster kids in every county in America. Wayne traveled the nation, raising awareness about the problem of child abuse and neglect and recruiting churches to do something about it. Diane drew on her business experience from starting up a fast-food franchise company to systematize policies, procedures and curriculum.
In 2014, 7,359 children ages 6 to 12 enjoyed one of Royal Family's 197 camps.
In 2014, 7,359 children ages 6 to 12 enjoyed one of Royal Family's 197 camps in 38 states and three foreign countries-free of charge. Fully 6 percent of all U.S. foster children in that age range attended a camp, where they learned how much their heavenly Father loves them. The mission of each camp is to "create life-changing moments for children of abuse."
The Tesches say Psalm 40:1-3 is their "founding Bible verse." In it, King David praises God for lifting him out of "the slimy pit" and setting his feet "on a rock," replacing his "cry" with "a hymn of praise." That psalm describes the experience of many of the children who attend a camp.
Samantha Orr's experience is representative. When she was 8, child protective services removed her from an abusive home. Her case was considered the worst case of abuse in Greene County, Missouri, history. Then she attended her first Royal Family camp. "It was the best week of my life," she says. "For the first time in my life I had fun, and I was treated like a normal kid."
She was later adopted by a camp staff member and is currently enrolled at Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri. She jumped at the chance to return to camp as a counselor. "This is my chance to make a difference in their lives," Orr says.
Over the years, Royal Family has evolved to offer mentoring and clubs for campers year-round. Wayne says Royal Family's approach is unique. It is the "only organization in the country for foster children that begins with a 5-day camp or relational experience. Everybody else begins mentoring with mentoring. We begin with relationship."
In 2013, Diane retired from her position as vice president of operations and communications. In 2014, Wayne successfully transitioned leadership of the organization to Chris Carmichael and assumed the new role of CEO of For the Children Foundation. Its mission is to raise "legacy gifts for the sustainability of Royal Family." Or, as Wayne puts it, "Your legacy, their hope."
The Tesches' own legacy is measured in changed lives. Diane remembers a welcome home dinner for campers where kids stood on stage dressed in their white camp T-shirts, sporting Burger King paper crowns. "When I saw all those kids on stage, it looked like a vision, as if God was saying to me, 'If you will keep doing what I called you to do, this is what you'll see one day in heaven.'"
Not the abused and neglected, not foster children-just royal sons and daughters, in white robes, wearing the crown of life.