Camp lets siblings in separate foster homes spend a few fun days together
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Whether it's hanging out at family gatherings or fighting over toys, most siblings take for granted the time that they spend together. Although these experiences may not always be memorable, they help to deepen and strengthen the family bond over the years.
"Sibling relationships ... outlast marriages, survived the death of parents, resurface after quarrels that would sink any friendship. They flourish in a thousand incarnations of closeness and distance, warmth, loyalty and distrust."
Erica E. Goode
Author of "The Secret World of Siblings"
U.S. News & World Report, January 10, 1994
Foster kids aren't afforded such small connections. Brothers and sisters in separate foster homes may not see each other for days, months or even years. Losing touch can be the toughest part of being in foster care.
"Celebrating a birthday, cheering for your brother or sister at a game, sharing secrets or stories and even fighting is a unique connection to siblings," said Vince Abramo, communications coordinator for Foster Family Programs of Hawaii.
Camp Connection aims to ease that gap with a three-day camping experience that allows siblings to spend quality time together -- as they play games and learn about Hawaiian culture.
One of the main goals of the program is to create a sense of stability, hope and connectedness that results in a greater since of well-being, allowing children to better handle the challenges of foster care, explained Pat Brown, director of Lani Kamaha'o campground and leader of the 2008 camp, held last weekend.
"Every child deserves to build childhood memories with their siblings," she said. "We only get one childhood; we don't get a do-over. If we don't address these issues now, we will be paying for them later."
Camp Connection is part of Foster Family Programs' Project Visitation, which was created in 2001 under the direction of Family Court Judge R. Mark Browning, several child advocates and community agencies. Project Visitation, working with the Department of Human Services and Family Court, brings foster kids and their siblings together monthly for outings handled solely by volunteers.
Last year, the first camping excursion was held; this year, 18 foster kids from six families were reunited.
"We are hoping to expand the camp from three days to one week," Abramo said. "It's important for separated siblings to know their brothers and sisters -- doing visits and having camp is creating that bond, the chance for memories to happen."
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Singing around the campfire, playing on swings, stargazing, making S'mores ... Simple pleasures, but for 18 foster children, they were priceless.
Want to help?
The next Project Visitation training session is July 29, from 4 to 5 p.m. Volunteers are sought to conduct monthly visits, involving scheduling and transportation of siblings at various households. Camp counselors for next year also are needed.
Training sessions cover general foster-care information, reasons siblings may be separated and how a visitation is conducted.
Call Vince, 521-9531, ext. 228, to sign up.
As their three days at Lani Kamaha'o campgrounds in Haaula ended, the children bid farewell to their siblings and headed off to separate homes.
Camp had given brothers and sisters a chance to spend time together, something they seldom get to do. They may see each other briefly once a month, sometimes less.
For an 11-year-old brother, roasting marshmallows was his favorite activity. "I set my marshmallow on fire and we made S'mores," he said. "I don't get to hang out with my (13-year-old) sister very often. We had lots of fun playing on the swing."
The two children have been separated for about three years (foster-family rules do not permit the use of their names).
A set of 11-year old twin girls visited with a (9-year-old) brother -- they've also been separated from him for about three years.
"My sister and I have been in seven different foster homes," one girl said. "My brother doesn't live with us." The three look forward to monthly get-togethers through a program called Project Visitation, but camp gave them some real time together.
"At camp, I got to help make dinner for everyone," she said. "We made kalua pork and sticky rice. It was fun."
Vince Abramo, communications coordinator for Foster Family Programs of Hawaii, said camp offers the kids a unique opportunity. "It is something so simple -- the everyday experience of living with your sibling happens here," she said.
From eating breakfast, lunch and dinner, brushing their teeth together to saying goodnight and good morning, the kids appreciated the experiences. "Many of the kids did not want to leave camp and a lot of them wanted to live there at the camp," Abramo added.
Rachel Hales wasn't sure what to expect when she took on a position as a volunteer camp counselor. But, "they are just normal kids that have been put in a bad situation," Hales said. "It was an amazing experience to watch how they got closer not only to their siblings, but also the other campers."
Three sisters -- ages 11,12 and 13 -- joked about everything from staying up all night to throwing one of the girls into the shower.
"Everything was good," said one.
"It was nice getting along with people," the younger one added.
Camp is geared toward creating memories and bonds, but encourages the development of inner strength, self-confidence and esteem.
"These children deserve unconditional love and to be in a safe place," said Pat Brown, director of Lani Kamaha'o and leader of the three-day camp. "We want them to create an invisible bag of memories."
Brown used a sprout growing out of a coconut as a metaphor when speaking to the campers. "We all get lickings in life," said Brown. "But no matter how many storms come along, when you build from the inside-out, you can rise above it." Brown discussed how the young coconut tree -- placed in the middle of the group -- was sustaining itself and flourishing with what was inside itself.
Camp counselor Lee Kapiko normally works with individual youths in group homes. "It's nice to meet the families and see the siblings together," she said, noting that she viewed some positive patterns. "Certain individuals really stepped up and took a leadership role."
And that is what it's all about -- making connections and making a difference in the lives of these children, Brown said.
She told the kids: "Don't let anything bury you, so that you lose sight of how precious you are. You determine your own destiny."