Happy Campers: Camp Catch-Up’s Virtual Vibes Still Brings Socially Distanced Siblings Together


More Than Six Feet Stands Between Unconnected Siblings; Camp Catch-Up Can Help   

Every year, siblings with foster care experience reunite as part of Camp Catch-Up. Children and youth convene with counselors, sing the traditional Camp Catch-Up song, and gather around a campfire.   

This year, these events took place, except a little bit differently. Whereas once Camp Catch-Up requested that campers turn in their phones and remain free of distraction, this year some adaptability was required.   

Zoom is just one change we’ve undergone and has since become an integral part of our lives. Once we assumed meetings and conferences were face-to-face. Alongside using this technology, we’ve adapted to other rituals as well, and so has Camp Catch-Up.   

Before leaving home, we fasten a mask to our face. We sanitize our hands while purchasing groceries. When we long to see family members, the best course of action is to either use Facetime or Zoom, or sit six feet apart while outdoors.   

Whereas the pandemic complicates our connections with people, for unconnected youth, who aren’t connected to a support network, this disconnection may seem even more apparent.   

For children and youth who were separated from siblings while experiencing the foster care system, more than six feet may stand between them. Isolation can feel endless. Social distancing may undertake an entirely new, yet familiar, meaning.    

This past week, siblings who were separated by the foster care system came together via Zoom to reunite. Although we couldn’t include photos of all these young people, they are anything but faceless.   

Camp Catch-Up STILL reunited siblings this year via Zoom!
Camp Catch-Up STILL reunited siblings this year via Zoom!

Mona Tarin, Camp Catch-Up’s Director, is always excited for each year’s camp. “Camp Catch-Up is a special time we gather to bring siblings together for one magical week!” said Mona.   

“My favorite part of camp is just seeing the campers reunite with their siblings, and how much they have grown from year to year.”   

From an outsider’s perspective via Zoom, one thing is apparent: these young people will not be stopped from having fun, and neither will Camp Catch-Up.   

An annual event, Camp Catch-Up brings youth together to reunite with their siblings! This year, not even the pandemic could stop Camp Catch-Up. A part of Connected Youth Initiative that falls under Nebraska Children and Families Foundation’s umbrella, when it rains it may pour, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still see the sun.   

Special Times, Same Siblings: Camp Catch-Up Creates Good Virtual Vibes  

An annual reunion comprised of three in-person camps, Camp Catch-Up has long provided a way for youth separated from their siblings due to foster care placements to reunite. The in-person camp provides a safe, distraction-free, fun-filled place with age-appropriate activities for youth to enjoy. This year’s online Virtual Vibes event succeeded with the same intentions.   

The reason behind this event, however, is not as simple. Camp Catch-Up reestablishes connections that are essential to children’s and youth’s stability. Siblings are often our first friends. Even for those young people who have experienced care and established new families and connections, the experience of reuniting with one’s first best friend is one of a kind.   

Camp Catch-Up Virtual Sibling Vibes was held this year on July 6 -10 via Zoom. All the children, youth, and counselors logged on – and then the games literally began! From Gaga ball to a talent show to storytelling, counselors and coordinators made sure that a good time was had by all.   

Camp Catch-Up kicked off with everyone singing the traditional song. Special guests dropped in throughout the week, including past camp counselors and beloved youth leaders such as Fatuma Hassan.   

On the first night, after everyone logged on and sang the song, campers reached into their pre-delivered goody bags and pulled out some tie-dying supplies. Gillian Allen, a young leader who has experienced foster care, led the charge and showed the campers how to tie-dye.   

Schalisha Walker, Project Everlast Omaha’s Youth Engagement Specialist, showed everyone via Zoom how to make s’ mores with a few creative twists. The campers watched with interest as Schalisha created her own version of the famous camp recipe, complete with Reeses’ Peanut Butter Cups.   

Schalisa showed Campers how to  make Milky Way s'mores
Schalisa showed Campers how to make Milky Way s’mores!
And Reese's Peanut Butter Cup s'mores...
And Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup s’mores…
And even s'more ingredients...
And even s’more ingredients…

More culinary fun followed on another evening when Miriam Werner cracked open the Camp Catch-Up book of recipes, a camper and staff-compiled collection of everyone’s favorite, easy-to-make desserts. Miriam showed everyone how to shake and make Mason Jar ice-cream with a few basic ingredients, including cream, vanilla extract, sugar, and salt.  

Meanwhile, Central Access Navigator Aaron Weaver told many interactive stories during which the virtual campers were able to contribute. One story was about aliens and unicorns in space; another story was about how all the colors became friends. While Aaron riffed on each tale, the young participants urged him on and gave him more ideas, while to their delight, the other counselors via Zoom acted each tale out.   

Aaron Weaver tells a story about how all the colors became friends.
Aaron Weaver tells a story about how all the colors became friends.
Camp counselors acted out each part of the story.
Camp counselors acted out each part of the story.
Campers had a great time contributing to the story!
Campers had a great time contributing to the story!

After Aaron told each story, he’d ask the laughing campers one question. “What is the moral of the story?”   

“Teamwork!” Said one young person. “Friendship!” said another.   

Yes, to both. The lesson behind each made-up story was very real: family and friendship matters. The early relationships that young people establish matter.  

Campers also played Kahoot, a fun trivia game!
Campers also played Kahoot, a fun trivia game!

Even through the computer’s audio, despite the tiny frames of the campers’ faces, the engagement was apparent. All the faces were laughing. Many of them even brought out their pets to show their siblings.   

Mona Tarin, the program director, said that the campers’ enthusiasm is the best part of Camp Catch-Up. “The kids have struggled with COVID,” said Mona regarding the campers’ sense of restlessness and disappointment when the in-person camps were canceled.   

Mona said she was particularly touched when camper Isabella Deloske, received word that the face-to-face sessions would be canceled, reiterated her desire to attend Camp Catch-Up. Mona said that Isabella’s family tried to make it up to her by offering a trip to Adventureland.   

“Bella said she didn’t want to go to Adventureland! She wanted to go to Camp Catch-Up,” said Mona. “I just couldn’t believe that! She wanted to go to Camp Catch-Up instead of Adventureland!”   

The participants continued to exude enthusiasm throughout the Camp Catch-Up activities, including a talent show led by Madison Davis.   

One camper performed a rap. Another one played the clarinet. Another one played the guitar. Aurora Eddins, another Camp Catch-Up regular, sang her yearly song, “Jesus Takes the Wheel.” Finally, a camper showed everyone an impressive set of Harry Potter Legos.   

In between Gaga ball games, the counselors continued to act out Aaron’s stories while the campers looked on and laughed. The campers then proceeded to egg on Damian Watson, one of the counselors, to abandon his Gaga ball game and show them how to do a handstand. The campers also played several rounds of Kahoot and had a dance party.   

Damian Watson shows the campers' his handstand talents.
Damian Watson shows the campers’ his handstand talents.

What stood out the most from a passive observer’s viewpoint was the campers’ willingness, engagement, and joy they felt to be present and reunited – via Zoom or not.   

Finally, the counselors and their own children held a campfire. All the campers logged on and virtually attended. Mona said she was moved when Dan Grosvenor, a past Camp Catch-Up counselor, gave a heartfelt speech. 

The counselors and leads held a campfire where their children attended in-person and the counselors virtually logged on for the fun.
The counselors and leads held a campfire where their children attended in-person and the counselors virtually logged on for the fun.

“He said that sometimes, he didn’t know where he was supposed to be,” said Mona. “But he said, ‘When I’m here, this is exactly where I am supposed to be.‘”   

And so here we are, exactly where we’re supposed to be. 

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Nebraska Children's mission is to maximize the potential of Nebraska’s children, youth, and families through collaboration and community-centered impact.

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