- Associated Press - Saturday, June 7, 2014

FREMONT, Neb. (AP) - At 11, Anjae can tell you that swimming is her favorite part of summer camp.

“Swimming is fun, because you can dunk your little brother,” she said.

Her 10-year-old brother, Brenden, doesn’t quite agree.

But both believe spending time together is fun at Camp Catch-Up.

Designed for youths ages 8 to 19, the three-day summer camp serves siblings separated from each other through foster care or adoption - or kinship care (living with other family). Almost 60 children attended a recent session at Camp Rivercrest near Fremont.

“Camp is a time for them to reconnect and spend the entire weekend together in a really fun environment,” camp director Alana Pearson of Craig told the Fremont Tribune (https://bit.ly/1p8jmPv).

Pearson points out the advantages of siblings spending time in nature and in an informal environment.

“When you’re separated you don’t always get that,” she said. “There’s always a visitation worker there or somebody monitoring and there’s also, maybe, your parents there. This is just a time for them to be away from all that and just be brothers and sisters and have fun.”

Pearson said Camp Catch-Up started in 2003 by a woman who worked for Nebraska Children and Families Foundation. The woman, who’d previously been separated from her siblings, wanted a camp where brothers and sisters could reconnect.

More than 40 youths gathered at Timberlake Ranch Camp near Central City that first year.

This year, three camps will host approximately 170 youths. Besides Rivercrest, camps will take place at Camp Maranatha near North Platte and at the 4-H Center near Gretna.

Pearson, who has been Camp Catch-Up director for six years, was in foster care as a teen. She lived with one brother, but was separated from another - and didn’t get to see him for about four years.

“It was extremely hard being put into a system that was so foreign and especially being separated from one of my siblings,” she said. “It was really hard not knowing where he was and how he was doing.”

Pearson was in foster care in the 1990s. Back then, there was nothing like Camp Catch-Up. Pearson was a 21-year-old college student when she was invited to be part of a Nebraska Children and Families Foundation council which brings together foster care youth and those who’ve aged out of the program.

Through the council, she learned about Camp Catch-Up.

“I was able to volunteer and got hooked,” she said.

Each camp typically has 30 volunteers.

“The success of our camp is really our volunteers,” she said. “We have wonderful volunteers who come every year and just dedicate themselves to the kids for the weekend.”

Children, who attend Camp Catch-Up, can participate in arts, the zip line, swimming, archery, a challenge course, climbing wall and hikes around the camp.

“For many of these kids, this might be their first and only camping experience,” Pearson said.

Camp activities, in which youth get awards and recognition, are designed to help enhance a child’s self-esteem.

The camp highlight is the Saturday night talent show.

“It’s a big deal,” she said. “The kids really look forward to it.”

Staffers help campers who don’t think they have a talent find a way to participate - even if it means burping the alphabet or being part of a skit.

Separated two years ago, Anjae said she and Brenden see each other once every other month. Camp is special, because they can spend three days, instead of one, together.

At camp, they like to play board games such as Monopoly. They play volleyball.

“He always wins, because I stink at sports,” she said.

Arts and crafts can be fun, the children said as they worked on scratchboard pictures.

Anjae likes using clay to make little people and paint them. She then enjoys playing with the art she’s made.

“And the heads don’t fall off as easily,” she said.

Someday, Anjae wants to become a veterinarian. Brenden wants to be an Indianapolis 500 racer.

“He’s liked cars since he was able to crawl,” Anjae explained. “He used to zoom around with the cars on the floor.”

So in the meantime, what’s the best part about camp?

“Spending time with family,” Brenden said.

For information on how to become a camper or staff member or donate, visit www.campcatchup.org for more information.

___

Information from: Fremont Tribune, https://www.fremontneb.com

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