“Through the dark and stormy night
Faith beholds a feeble light
Up the blackness streaking;
Knowing God’s own time is best,
In a patient hope I rest
For the full day-breaking!” ~John Greenleaf Whittier
A Special Interview in Chicago
Javanna is a Licensing Specialist for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), following a 26-year stretch as a placement worker. As such, she removed children from abuse, neglect, abandonment, and determined the best course of action for the child. Her motivation to begin 28 years ago was a strong desire to make life better for someone else. Former Royal Family KIDS (RFK) campers Bekki, Joseph, Andy, and Kimmy are all recipients of a better life because of Javanna Smith.
Back in 1996 Javanna saw a brochure featuring a new kind of summer camp—one that was specifically designed to meet the needs of foster children. When she discovered it was faith-based, she was confident that it would be a helpful environment for her precious kids, particularly Bekki.
Bekki—along with her brothers and sister, were intelligent and caring. They came from a Christian background; nine-year-old Bekki would be the first from the family to attend a Royal Family KIDS camp. After the week of camp, Javanna said Bekki could not stop talking about the experience. It wasn’t just about the fun, as emphasis was placed on how the adults made a difference during the week of camp as well. Jovanna talked about the people she met, as she could see the evidence of the impact caring volunteers made on this impressionable child. It did not end there.
Bekki’s brothers Joseph and Andy, joined her the following year. It was a real treat for the separated siblings to spend a week together at camp. Javanna stayed in touch with the children as their caseworker, but more because she cared deeply for them. Bekki transitioned from group living to the home of one of our camp volunteers, Shirley Sorenson. Joseph and Andy were later adopted by their aunt and uncle.
Javanna says, “I watched this wonderful young lady blossom as she found her way through a new life.” The new ‘life’ connections made through RFK did in fact change her very life, and impacted her siblings in a unique and powerful way as well. Jovanna went on to say, “When I saw their lives change it left me speechless. I wished all my kids had that encounter.”
Nine years later, Kimmy—another one of Javannas’ kids, would have the opportunity to go to a Royal Family KIDS camp. Javanna made sure of that! Bekki was 18 by then and was now a volunteer counselor at the camp she attended as a chid. Kimmy was her assigned camper. The relationship had forged during camp that year back in 2005 and continues to this day.
Javanna is the story behind the story. She is a dedicated follower of Jesus Christ who continues to promote this camp that the kids cannot stop talking about. It is her wish for those who volunteer at a RFK camp, that they understand the generational impact of what they do. In these days when we assess immediate return on investment, Javanna encourages us to look beyond the week of camp. She suggests “looking down the long road to that which cannot be seen through the natural eye.” To look with the eyes of faith, and see what God does with a thought that perhaps was planted in these children that there ARE good people in this world. These are people who do not hurt children, but rather take a week of their vacation time to volunteer at camp and contribute along with others, in creating positive experiences. Javanna has been the agent of redemption in the lives of so many; her impact in incalculable, and so is yours.
Her goal in retirement is to serve at Royal Family KIDS Camp or T.R.A.C. (Teen Reach Adventure Camp). Javanna says, “In retirement I can participate in awakening the child within the child at camp.” The tireless efforts of case managers like Javanna are the stories behind the story. It is workers like her that do not just manage “cases,” but go beyond to make life better for the children in their care.
Interview between Javanna Smith, Licensing Specialist DCFS and John Schwider, RFK Great Lakes Ambassador (DCFS)