In our last blog post, we told you about Camp Catch-Up, a special place where siblings who are separated by foster care placement can spend a weekend together canoeing, hiking, trying ropes courses, and more – all while rekindling their connections with each other.
But here’s the thing: Camp Catch-Up can’t happen without a staff! That’s why we’re seeking dedicated, compassionate staff to work alongside our campers. It’s an amazing opportunity to build first-hand connections with children from diverse life experiences, learn the importance of sibling connections for youth in out-of-home care, support youth as they reconnect with their siblings, and get to know other professionals in the area.
To volunteer as a staff member, you must be:
- At least 20 years old at the time of camp
- Responsible for supporting and supervising a sibling family
- Able to participate in all activities, including but not limited to canoeing, ropes course, water activities, hiking, walking, and standing for long periods of time
Applicants must have two years of education and/or experience working with children or youth from different backgrounds. Experience and/or understanding of the foster care system, adoption, or out-of-home care is a must.
Staff in Western Nebraska will attend the 4-H Camp near Halsey for the weekend beginning June 14, and Eastern Nebraska staff will attend the 4-H Camp near Gretna for the weekend starting July 13.
Staff Profile: Megan Unwin’s Life-Changing Saturday Night
As I stood there in the crowded room, I wished I could freeze time. I was surrounded by momentary innocence, positive interactions, unfathomable energy, and pure happiness. The happiness and energy filled the room, being passed from one another. I looked around and saw new and old friends interacting as if they had all known each other for years. I looked and saw concerns, fears, or any other problematic thoughts forgotten, even if just for a short minute. I closed my eyes to hold back the tears and heard laughter, the sounds of sweet innocent conversations, and smiles beaming from every sound. This was my Saturday night.
I was blessed last summer to be a part of a very unique and special camp. Camp Catch-Up is a 3-day camp where foster youth of Nebraska who have been separated from their siblings are able to come together for a weekend of fun and bonding. It is a place where children who often deal with issues unknown by most can come and feel safe, be loved, and spend quality time with their family that many others take for granted. Camp Catch-Up is a place where the difficulties of life that often befall foster children can be forgotten for at least a short time. It is a place where all children are accepted for who they are and praised for all of their amazing qualities. Camp Catch-Up is a blessing; a blessing for the children and for the staff, as well.
For me, this weekend was full of different emotions. When the campers arrived, the initial emotion was anxiousness. I was anxious to finally meet who I would be caring for over the next 3 days, and how they would react to meeting me. After a few hours passed with my new family, anxiousness subsided to curiosity. I questioned how I would learn enough about the children to entertain, bond with, and redirect when frustrated, scared, or sad. Thankfully, with the help of other staff and through my chattiness, smiles, and high-fives, answers came throughout the day. Excitement then set in as I saw the families take part in the different activities and bond with each other. It is exciting to see them explore and learn the exact qualities and aspects I seek to learn as well. Although they are family, many of the foster children don’t get the chance to see each other on a regular basis. My family this year hadn’t seen each other in over 4 years. However, their family bond was strong and their eagerness to “make up for lost time” was heart-warming. Excitement grew as I saw the love shining through each family, whether it be through encouragement, positive/caring words, hugs, or even the sibling quarrels. I became even more thankful to be a part of this, and thankful each of these children have the chance to be together for this short time.
The thankfulness and excitement floated between the feeling of exhaustion for much of the camp. However, this mixture of feelings quickly turned to motivation and awe as the much-awaited talent show arrived. This is a time where many build enough courage to step onto a stage, which they never dreamed of doing before this camp. It’s a time where even the smallest talents are applauded with deserved standing ovations. It is a time where families come together to plan and create some sort of entertainment and support one another even when they didn’t realize their own strength. It is yet another time during this camp where children walk away feeling they have conquered the world, and bonded with/cheered on their family and new friends conquering the same feat.
Campfire was next on the agenda. Campfires often rank right up there with the top activity for many campers. Why? Because of the s’mores, of course! With it being the last campfire of camp, each camper was given the opportunity to say what their favorite part of camp was. Often, the talent show, water activities, zip line, or other high-energy activities are named. However, it never fails that the majority of the campers, young and old, also say their time with each other. They are so thankful for their time that wasn’t rushed or crunched into an hour or two visit, if that. They are thankful for time that isn’t at the same park, house, or activity. They are thankful for their time to just be kids with people they cherish most – their family. Their thankfulness flows with each word spoken and my heart aches wishing I could give them more.
Saturday evening concludes with free time for all campers. Free time to hang out with their family. Free time to talk to their new friends who have accepted them for who they are and nothing more. Free time to feel included, cared for, and free. It is such a neat atmosphere to be a part of and is what I described at the beginning of this story. It is a life-changing feeling for most everyone involved.
Sunday, the hardest day at camp, arrived. The final meals and activities have happened and it is time to go home. As the children prepare to leave, many have tears rolling down their faces. The thought of leaving their family or the loving staff they spent the weekend with is heartbreaking for some. As the campers shout to one other their plans to return next year with the hopes of recreating such greatness, I share the same plan and hopes. For the past 8 years, I have made the same commitment to them. Although it is not much, and they deserve more, I promised to myself to come and volunteer at this camp as much as possible. I write all of this to share my experience and to possibly encourage others to step up and fight for these children as well. If you are able, please consider taking 1-4 days out of your life to provide a weekend of happiness for these children. If time is not an option, consider finding other ways you can help. It would be greatly appreciated and won’t be taken for granted.