Jefferson Award Winner: Mike and Lisa Irvin

Jefferson Awards

Highlighting Local Volunteers

The Jefferson Awards engages the Partners in our communities to highlight local volunteers. The goal is to spotlight the great work they do and to inspire our community to put their service ideas into action.

From the 2019-2020 Honorees, a local panel of judges select one winner that will travel to the National Gala in Washington, DC. to represent Northeast Kansas.  From the nationwide winners, one will be selected for a national Jefferson Award.

Every summer just outside of Manhattan, Kansas there’s a camp with campers from all backgrounds that all have one thing in common, they’re foster teens. 

“It’s just always been a passion to work with at-risk teens because truly who is,” said Mike Irvin, who runs the Flint Hills Foster Teen Camps (FHFTC) alongside his wife Lisa. 

It was about 10 years ago when the Irvin’s had the realization that there is no organization solely dedicated to helping teens in the foster care system. Both Mike and Lisa have a passion for helping people find their way, so in 2009 they established the camps as a way to positively impact the lives foster teens.  

Since starting the camps, the Irvin’s estimate they’ve had more than 500 foster teens in the state attend their camps.  

Mike and Lisa quite literally open their home to these teens since the camps are held on their sprawling ranch that runs right along Tuttle Creek Lake in the rural part of Olsburg, Kansas.  

During the summer months, they put a number of these camps with the help of local volunteers, and each camp lasts for about three to four days. 

Even though this camp is unique, they still have your typical camp traditions like campfires and team activities, but then each day the teens take part in a challenge course. The challenge courses are full of obstacles the teen have to complete like climbing over a 12-foot wall or walking on a balance beam with a blindfold on.  

“Now you take a foster teen 12-18 years old that’s been abused, that’s been sexually abused, that’s been fondled, that’s had horrible things happen to them and you’re going to ask them to go down this balance beam blindfolded, “ Mike said, “It gets real, real fast.” 

The Irvin’s say it’s in those challenge courses that the teens begin to open up and share their stories of what life is like growing up in the foster care system. A system the couple says is complicated and tends to follow a pattern.  

“Mike and I decided we can’t take care of the big picture but we can start working with the kids one on one,” Lisa said. “And if we can break that cycle imagine the ripple effect because statistics says 53% of these kids will become abusers themselves because that’s all they know.” 

At camp, the teens finally get a chance to work through their issues, and to sit down with an adult who truly cares and listens. And it gives Mike and Lisa a chance to have an impact on a foster teen’s life that might be for the first time, a positive impact. 

The camps are free to attend, foster teens can sign up online HERE.

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