Spotlight On

Siblings Share Summers
at Camp to Belong

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Every year, hundreds of thousands of children lug duffel bags and backpacks into cabins, ready to spend their days hiking, swimming, playing games--and making new friends with other youth they've never met before. For about 600 campers this summer, though, the friends they'll be spending time with have familiar faces. In seven camps across the United States--and one new location in Australia--siblings who are separated by their placements in out-of-home care get to reunite and enjoy a week of activities together.

There are seven Camp to Belong locations across the United States, including Camp Tatonic in Massachusetts, where this group gets ready for their week

Lynn Price founded Camp to Belong in 1995. Her inspiration was the personal experience of growing up in foster care separated from her sister; once they reconnected as young adults, they were disappointed to realize they had no shared memories. Years later, when Price was volunteering in the child welfare system, she discovered she and her sister were far from the only sibling group who had grown up apart. Since its beginnings in Las Vegas, Camp to Belong has expanded to the Pacific Northwest, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Washington state, and Orange County, California. The first camp in Australia is planned for late 2010. In each place, Camp to Belong partners with one or several local agencies.

"We work year-round with different child welfare agencies. It's usually the caseworkers that will fill out applications for the youth to come to camp," Price explains. "The beauty of it is the relationships we build with the child welfare agencies." Each camp lets the agencies know how many spaces are available, and the agencies fill in the spaces based on which regions the camp covers. "They choose based on who they think will benefit most," Price says. Campers can be in foster care, in adoptive families, or back with birth families, and can be in pairs or larger groups. "We've had sibling groups of two, even twins, and we've had groups of up to seven," recalls Price.

In addition to regular summer camp activities, Camp to Belong provides siblings with some activities to reinforce their bonds and celebrate the week they're able to spend together. One popular event is the all-camp birthday party, where there is usually a cake for each sibling group to celebrate their birthdays in the company of brothers and sisters. Craft time includes the chance to make pillows or quilts for siblings. The campers pick out fabric, stuff the pillows, and decorate them with messages for each other. "Now that brother or sister gets to bring something to their respective home to hug at night. And what's remarkable is from the young to the older, the girls to the boys, they all want an opportunity to express themselves, and that's one of the ways they do," Price explained during an interview with CWLA's radio show, On the Line,. She added that Camp to Belong helps the campers think about their futures by encouraging youth to plan for college, military service, careers, and community service, including advocacy for their siblings and other children in similar situations.

Separated siblings make quilts or pillows so they have something to hug at night when they aren't living with their brothers and sisters.

Price says each year sees some groups returning to camp, sometimes as campers again but often as "counselors in training." She admits that after the youth leave camp, sometimes confidentiality issues make it difficult to follow their progress through the system, or determine if their placements have changed and they have been brought together. But some of the campers do stay in touch, and relate stories of increased visitation or more reunions with siblings. "We do know that those things happen," Price says, and she continues that Camp to Belong is trying to measure its impact with more than this anecdotal evidence: "We're actually just starting into an evaluation program."

After the summer camp is over, several campers join Camp to Belong in advocacy efforts year-round, to help people realize how often siblings are separated in out-of-home care. "People don't think about it," Price says. Price says the youth become "ambassadors, if you will, that make themselves available to speak at our events.... By virtue of being at camp, we give them the courage to speak up."

Meghan Williams is a contributing editor to Children's Voice.

Adding Dads in Indiana

Dads Inc., a five-year-old group of fathers dedicated to increasing fathers' involvement in children's lives based in central Indiana, recently merged with CWLA member agency The Villages. Chris Maples, Dads Inc.'s founder, says the suggestion to merge came from two funders, who wanted his organization to examine its sustainability and growth. The two organizations share the goal of strengthening families and will complement each other's resources. "This new relationship with The Villages will allow us to better show-case fathers, help fathers, and support fathers in a new, innovative, and creative way," Maples said. For more, visit www.villages.org or www.dadsinc.org.

Recreating Recreation

The recreation room at Vanderheyden Hall in Wynantskill, New York, recently underwent a renovation. The Junior League of Troy, a group that supp-orts organizations that help women and children, has had a longstanding relationship with Vanderheyden and donated $5,000 for the renovation and volunteered time as well--actually taking part in the renovation earlier this year. Under the direction of a recreation supervisor, the rec room provides residents of Vanderheyden a place to watch movies, read books, play games, and visit with friends. The renovation included new curtains, paint, and flooring, as well as bookcases, tables, and chairs.

Cooperating for Youth

A San Diego County grand jury issued a report in early May calling for more information-sharing between county agencies, and an effort to encourage at-risk children to enroll at San Pasqual Academy. The academy, which provides education and housing for foster children ages 12-18, has an average of 50 vacant beds each month, more than one-quarter of the 184-bed capacity. The grand jury was studying services available to youth transitioning out of foster care. The group recommended the San Diego human services, education, and probation departments cooperate to identify youth who could benefit from the academy and similar programs.

To comment on this article, e-mail voice@cwla.org.

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Listen to related
On the Line with CWLA

Camp to Belong: Reuniting Separated Siblings in Foster Care

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