- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Something new and exciting is awaiting youths in local foster care facilities this Labor Day weekend.

For 12 years, Camp to Belong has been reuniting siblings pulled apart by foster care. With camps expanding nationwide, the international nonprofit organization will give foster children in the Washington area a chance to bond with the brothers and sisters from whom they’ve been separated.

About 600,000 children nationwide live in a foster care system, and 77 percent of them have said they want to see more of their siblings, according to Casey Family Programs, a Seattle-based national foundation that promotes improvements in child welfare practices and policies.

“As an adult, having grown up in the District’s foster care system and having experienced separation from my 12 siblings while in care, I felt compelled to bring this program to the D.C. metro area,” says Louis Henderson, president and chief executive of the National Association of Former Foster Care Children of America.

“So many of my peers that I grew up with were either homeless, had been in and out of jail or were dead after they aged out [of foster care] and had nowhere to go,” Mr. Henderson explains. “The last straw for me was when I went to get some gas, and all of a sudden a guy appeared and said, ‘Can I pump your gas?’ … It was a young man who slept right next to me in the group hall, and he was homeless, pumping gas for a quarter.”

Camp to Belong was founded in the summer of 1995 on the campus of the University of Las Vegas by Lynn Price, who also experienced sibling separation in the foster care system.

The camp that will welcome Washington-area children Aug. 29 is located at Camp Sandy Cove in the Blue Ridge Mountains of High Point, W.Va. It brings together scattered siblings from kinship care and adoptive home placements as well foster care systems. The children not only will see their brothers and sisters again, but also will have the opportunity to share their experiences with others who are in the same situation.

“It’s an opportunity to not just see their siblings, but an opportunity for structured activities that will teach them how to love and support one another,” says Aleathia Adams, Camp to Belong coordinator for the D.C. region.

The camp features signature events and activities, including:

  • Art therapy. The children decorate boxes in which they put a personal wish for their siblings and also decorate pillows with special messages for their siblings to take home with them later.
  • Life seminar/mentoring program. Children ages 13 to 18 go to local college campuses to hear advice from various speakers on life after foster care.
  • Birthday party. At a giant camp party, children present gifts and cards to their siblings to celebrate the birthdays missed over the years.
  • Theme Night. The camp comes together as a team, reinforcing bonding through teamwork.
  • “These are the projects that no matter where you do the camp, it is a requirement, because when they are at camp, [siblings] might not be in the same cabin since they are not male and female mixed, but the activities are set up into family groups so that each family group gets to do their activity together,” Ms. Adams explains.

    “We are not going to stop with this camp, but on a monthly basis, we are going to bring the siblings together with an activity,” Mr. Henderson says. “We will encourage them to write each other because we don’t want this relationship to end.”

    Volunteers, donations and camp counselors for the D.C.-area camp are much appreciated and needed. To make a donation or find out how to help a child, contact Louis Henderson at 202/491-1010.

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