Devin Johnson can pin point the moment.
It was then she knew what she got herself into was not only a way to help, but it was her calling.
Johnson is the Kenai Camp director for Royal Family Kids’ Camps, an organization that hosts camps for foster children ages 6 through 12 for one week throughout the world.
“Our whole mission is to create positive memories,” Johnson said. “It’s like giving the kids another channel in their brain, a good positive one instead of the bad ones they have.”
Johnson was 15 years old when she first volunteered at the camp in Anchorage as a way to give back and to help a good organization.
“When I first started it was more about going and the kids are going to have a fun week and we’re all going to go and have fun,” she said.
The next year, her perspective changed.
“It was when we had a girl that came back the second year and she was just completely and so drastically changed from her first year of camp,” Johnson said. “She came back this broken shell of a girl I’d say. Her foster dad she was with had been molesting her, and it was putting the faces to all of the horrific stories we hear about in the training and in the news.”
That was the moment.
“But when it’s this girl I just call ‘Sierra’ — that happened to her,” Johnson said. “It was realizing the camp was more than having fun, but it was a safe place for these kids.”
Johnson, now 22, is in her seventh year of volunteering for Royal Family Kids’ Camp, and 2012 will be her second year of being the Kenai camp director. She’s the youngest director in the entire organization that spans 35 states and 11 more countries.
Wayne Tesch and his wife Diane held the first Royal Family Kids’ Camp in Calif. 25 years ago.
“Her passion and her love for kids just leaks all over the place,” Wayne Tesch said. “You can’t help but not talk to her and eventually she talks about kids and her eyes begin to dance, there’s a smile on her face, tears in her eyes, she’s just one incredible young lady.”
One of Johnson’s favorite events during the week-long camp is the talent show that takes place on the Thursday night.
“It has absolutely nothing to do with talent,” she said. “It’s so cool to see those kids that really are very shy and reserved, then after the (show), how bubbly they are, and they just open up completely.”
As Johnson talks about the camp, her eyes light up. It’s because she knows she’s where she needs to be.
“I used to be leery of talking about my faith, but that’s really where all this stems from,” she explained. “Knowing this is where I’m called to be and I’m very blessed to be in this position. That’s really how I’m able to get through every day when my to-do list is several miles long.
“It’s where I draw my strength from.”
Tesch said there’s an “army” of compassion that’s being generated in Alaska, and Johnson is in the center of it.
“It takes people that have this deep faith in people and in children because they recognize moments do matter in the lives of children and in the lives of adults,” Tesch said. “We are what we are because of a moment that took place in time.”
The children Johnson has been able to help in her seven years of volunteering has had a big effect on her, she said.
“I came from a pretty good home and to have these stories and see the kids, the faces of their stories, it really impacts you pretty deeply,” Johnson said. “That’s why I love working with young people, because you’re that mentor to these kids and that’s who these kids look up to.”
“To be able to tell a young person, ‘You have the opportunity to change a life at your young age,’ I think that’s an incredible boost on their end, to be all that they can be and to set a good example.”
Chris Scott is the director of the Royal Family Kids’ Camp in Anchorage that Johnson started at. Scott said she could tell Johnson was going to be a great leader.
“I think first of all she’s an incredibly good listener,” Scott said. “She listens and then she problem solves and articulates very well. She just doesn’t jump to conclusions to solve the problem. She’s creative and she also uses people’s skills, she identifies who does things well and uses them.”
Johnson knows she’s where she needs to be.
“Royal Family has definitely stolen my heart,” she said. “It’s my passion and I want to help these kids as much as possible.”
Logan Tuttle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.