Despite all the best efforts and intentions, siblings sometimes are separated in foster care or adoption. Weeks, months, even years can go by without brothers and sisters seeing each other. Camp To Belong aims to rectify that for one week of summer camp each year.
Tucked away in the San Bernardino National Forest, foster kids from Las Vegas get something they dearly want, but almost never have -- time with their separated siblings.
For one week each summer, they get to do and say all the things they normally can't with their siblings, and everyone here understands: they've all been there.
"When we get here, we're able to have fun -- enjoy ourselves. We still argue and bicker, but that's what brothers and sisters do. I'd rather sit up here and be able to see her and argue all day than to not see her at all," says Joseph, a camper who is here to spend time with his sister.
This is Joseph's third year at Camp To Belong. Sure, he loves coming for the horse-back riding and boating and the other fun activities, but it would be nothing if he couldn't see his sister.
"It gives me the right to reunite with my siblings. I don't get to see her on a day-to-day basis. She's always in a different home or she's always traveling from home to home, so it prevents me from being able to see her as much as I want to," admits Joseph.
Camp To Belong gives back to each child some of the life experiences that are otherwise stolen, like sharing birthdays together, working on trust relationships, and even just goofing around.
"They said camp was never like this -- just interacting with their siblings and getting to canoe with their brother and throwing water bottles and just playing around. It really makes a difference for them," says Patty Chess, a third time camp counselor.
Patti is retired from a foster care system that continually makes tough choices in sometimes placing kids apart.
"As a worker, I hated that -- when I knew that siblings had to be separated. Some of these kids with big families, there's no way to put them in one family. This has been an awesome week to see them together," explains Patti.
Packing a lifetime of missed opportunities into a summer camp may not seem fair, but for kids like Joseph, it's enough -- more than enough. "I'm thankful that I get to see her. I'm thankful for the founders. I'm thankful for Camp To Belong, because not many siblings out there get to see their siblings at all."
Las Vegan Lynn Price started Camp To Belong, which has chapters in 10 other states and Washington, DC.
If you'd like to support the program, or volunteer for camp, call Child Focus at 436-1624.