From the Summer 2015 issues of Partners
The experience of being separated from your home and parent(s) is a traumatic experience for any child entering out-of-home care, even more so when it is compounded by being separated from a sibling. Sibling relationships are often the longest and one of the most significant relationships that one experiences in a lifetime.
Camp To Belong (CTB) gives siblings a chance to be together when they live apart. In Wisconsin alone, there are approximately 7,000 children and youth who are placed in out-of-home care, and about half of those children are living separately from their siblings.
CTB is a summer camp that helps reunite siblings who live separately in out-of-home placements, such as foster care, through a week-long camp experience. Yet, it is so much more than a typical summer camp. This camp is just for siblings; to help them re-connect, strengthen bonds, and create lifelong memories.
About Camp To Belong
Camp To Belong is an international non-profit organization, founded in 1995 in Las Vegas, Nevada by Lynn Price. Camp To Belong was created to reconnect siblings and help give them memories to carry with them throughout their lives in a camp setting. It has grown over the years and is now in several states across the U.S. and also in Australia. And we are excited to share that Camp To Belong is now in Wisconsin, as well!
Campers at Camp To Belong get to experience things like hiking, swimming, arts and crafts, and horseback riding—much like many other summer camps. Camp To Belong, however, offers so much more than just summer fun activities. Campers get to have these experiences and build memories with their brothers and sisters; they are able to leave with mementos from camp such as scrapbooks, handmade pillows, or quilts, to take home. Siblings also get to experience a birthday party together, as well as opening and closing ceremonies. In short, they get the time to connect with each other in a meaningful way. Camp To Belong’s focus on the importance of sibling connections also means that they want to find ways to encourage social workers, case workers, and others working with youth in out-of home-care to help siblings stay connected throughout the year—not only during camp.
Lynn Price, founder and a former foster youth, was placed away from her sister while living in foster care. She reconnected with her sister in college and they got to know each other again. Lynn realized how many typical childhood memories she had missed out on and began to think of ways for other siblings coming from similar backgrounds to have quality time together. Camp To Belong was eventually created.
Siblings in out-of-home care often live in the same communities, yet only spend an hour or so together each month. They can miss out on day-to-day experiences, as well as holidays, birthdays, and other important milestones. Children coming out of the foster care system often do re-connect with their siblings as adults. Lynn has been an advocate for having more homes available for siblings, providing an increased awareness of family interactions, and sibling relationships; all to help give kids a voice.
Heidi, a former Camp To Belong camper, spent time in foster care and was placed separately from her siblings. When her brothers were placed in another state, she went from living with them and seeing them every day to not seeing them for six months. Her foster mother heard about Camp To Belong and Heidi was able to go to camp with her siblings. She recalled that it was difficult being away from them and had really begun to count and plan on going to camp with them every summer. Heidi still has the pillows, scrapbooks, and blankets from her camp experiences.
Heidi shared that, because of Camp To Belong, she has so many cherished memories and experiences with her siblings. “This camp helps siblings living apart get a chance to know each other, be like ‘normal’ siblings in an environment with other kids having the same kind of experiences and knowing they are not alone.” Heidi said that when she was in foster care, she did not know other kids in foster care; but at camp, she “didn’t feel weird being a foster kid.”
Bringing Camp To Belong to Wisconsin
Thanks to the efforts of Kate and Rob Bauer, this sibling summer camp is coming to Wisconsin, August 16-21, 2015! The Bauer’s met volunteering in a camp setting and have found that going to camp is a terrific way for kids with similar backgrounds and experiences to open up and connect to one another. They have been involved with Camp To Belong and Lynn for a number of years, and have worked diligently to bring this wonderful camping experience to our state. Rob volunteered as a Camp To Belong counselor when he was a graduate student. In 2002, he brought 12 children from Milwaukee with him to the camp in Colorado. Then, in 2003, Kate became involved as well. The Bauer’s have volunteered at camps in Colorado, Nevada, and Maine, and have also recruited other family members to get involved.
- Funding. It costs about $1,000 per camper and the camp does not want to turn a child or sibling away. Consider attending one of their upcoming fundraising events, such as the Bowl-a-Thon June 7th in Fond du Lac, or making a private tax deductible donation. They are about halfway to meeting their fundraising goal!
- Volunteers. The camp is looking for a diverse set of volunteers to be camp counselors. Volunteers must commit to the full week of camp plus complete training. Applications are now available on the website, www.ctb-wi.org.
- Campers! Camper applications are now available on the website. They are looking for campers between the ages of 8-21. The camp is located near Plymouth, WI, hosted at beautiful Camp Anokijig. Campers can come from a variety of living situations—biological homes, kinship homes, adoptive homes, foster homes, and living independently.
To learn more about this camp, its history, founder, camper stories, and much, much more, please check out Camp To Belong’s website, camptobelong.org. You can find volunteer and camper applications and additional information about Wisconsin’s upcoming camp. There are a lot of ways to help siblings maintain connections; Camp To Belong is an amazing opportunity for them to build and strengthen lasting relationships.
Camp To Belong-Wisconsin, Inc. is a non-profit that is an affiliate of Camp To Belong-International. Camp To Belong-Wisconsin would like to recognize the Fond du Lac Area United Way, Inc., the Fond du Lac Area Foundation, and the Jessica King Fund of the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation for their funding support. Information about this article was obtained from the Camp To Belong, Inc. website http://camptobelong.org/ and promotional material for Camp To Belong-Wisconsin as well as through interviews with Lynn Price, Founder of Camp To Belong, Kate and Rob Bauer, Co-Directors of Camp To Belong-WI, and Heidi, former Camp To Belong camper and former foster youth. A big Thank You to Kate and Rob Bauer for connecting Coalition staff with Lynn and Heidi.