This is a special week for about 100 kids in Washington who live apart from their siblings. Camp to Belong Washington brings together siblings who are separated from each other because they're in foster, adoptive or relative care.
There will be traditional camp activities such as a ropes course, swimming and archery. But the camp also incorporates activities tailored to children who are living separated from their siblings, such as an all-camp birthday celebration with donated gifts that the kids can give to their brothers and sisters. The children also will write messages on pillows and quilts to give to each other.
A shortage of foster homes that can accommodate multiple children makes it difficult to keep siblings together. Often, siblings have few chances to see each other except for short, court-arranged visits.
“A lot of memories these kids have are not always pleasant because they’re obviously in out-of-home care, but this helps them create some really positive memories that they can share with each other,” said Bob Partlow, the camp’s assistant director.
The camp is a partnership between Camp to Belong Washington and the state Department of Children, Youth and Families. Since it started in 2009 in Port Orchard, more than 1,000 brothers and sisters have been able to spend time with each other at the camp.
Partlow said the camp means so much to the children that it becomes very emotional when they have to leave. He remembered one night before the end of camp when a girl stood to talk, but could not say a word.
“Finally after about 25 seconds, her brother came up and he just put his arms around her, and they just stood there in front of all these people,” Partlow said. “The expression 'not a dry eye in the house' doesn’t even begin to describe what was going on in that room at that moment because everybody got it – how difficult it is to separate.”