When life gives you rain, you play foosball.
Such was the case for this year’s Camp Catch-Up (CCU), anyway, which is no stranger to obstacles.
A Nebraska Children and Families Foundation program that operates within Connected Youth Initiative (CYI), CCU remains as resilient as its campers.
Throughout the pandemic, the CCU staff continued to find creative, innovative ways to reunite siblings between the ages of 8-19 separated by the foster care system.
This year’s first Camp Catch-Up summer session, Camp Moses-Merrill, kicked off in Linwood, Nebraska from June 10-13.
As far as CCU is concerned, there’s no time better than the present to reunite siblings separated by foster care placements, even if it means a little rain, as it did on the first day.
Mona Tarin, CCU Director, said that CCU continued with their yearly traditions, such as tie-dying, along with new ones.
Mona said, “We did tie-dye shirts and masks. We had a little rainstorm, so we had to postpone things, but the staff still engaged with kids and played games. Camp had foosball and hockey, so [campers and staff] took advantage of that, too.”
Like all Nebraska Children’s initiatives, CCU is committed to our children and youth pursuing thriving lives. Therefore, we can’t underestimate the importance of sibling relationships. When campers reunite with siblings, they’re coming together with their first friends in life.
Mona said that this year, Gaga Ball is a favorite activity among staff and campers.
Mona said, “Gaga Ball is one of the biggest hits. The [campers] got into it. There was even one game with the staff against kids, and that was fun. Everyone loves Gaga Ball.”
Another CCU favorite among Mona, her team, and campers is the talent show. Mona said she recalled a few moments of talent among campers.
“One little girl did some moves like dancing moves and ended up on her back; it was cool! We had those moments that were really awesome,” Mona said.
But beyond the fun, Mona and her staff remain loyal to the bigger purpose of camp-to provide siblings with time to catch up. Mona said that the pandemic caused an even longer lapse in time since campers have seen each other.
“The [siblings] hadn’t come [to camp] for a while hadn’t seen each other for two years,” said Mona.
Mona said, “They’d been busy, and then the pandemic happened. I was glad to bring camp to siblings. [Reconnecting] is so important, and it’s been hard for them to be separated.”
Mona said there were other meaningful reconnections, especially among the younger campers.
“We had two twins that were five years old, and they did amazing! I didn’t think they’d last, but they reunited with their seven- and eight-year-old sisters,” said Mona.
Mona said that although campers traditionally are eligible at 8 years old, she made a heartfelt exception.
Mona said, “I couldn’t turn them down. The twins are adopted; their other [siblings] are in the process of getting adopted. I couldn’t say no. I feel like this year’s camp had so many young kids, from ages 5-8, and it adds to our camp.”
Mona said that the staff and campers were passionate about the little ones as well.
“It’s also heartbreaking that they’re separated, but that’s why we have camp! I told their adoptive parents, ‘The kids can come until they’re nineteen years old!’” said Mona.
In addition to reuniting younger and older campers, the campers engaged in STEM activities.
Mona said, “Kids cooked cookies and pizza, and we made it into a STEM project, and [the campers] created a homemade oven! The kids learned how to make a solar oven. That was really neat.”
CCU held another new activity that was a huge success – Camp Sparks. Mona said that the staff created bingo cards, and campers would do the prompts – being respectful, taking out the trash, being a good citizen, and so forth. If a camper fills out their card, they received a prize.
“That was encouraging. We want to promote more positive reinforcement,” said Mona.
Last but not least, Mona is grateful for the staff volunteers, including some young leaders-in-training.
Since Camp Catch-Up has experienced so much success with its staff and campers, Mona said that the camp has begun to pilot a Leaders in Training (LIT) program.
“When the kids turn fifteen or sixteen, they can enlist as Camp Catch-Up staff,” said Mona.
Mona said that although the team is still piloting the program, they want to involve LIT participants’ voices as much as possible.
“[For this camp, we] had two young people who were LITs,” said Mona.
Mona said that some potential LIT responsibilities include campfire set-up, archery, and staff assistance.
“We’re going to let the young people to part of the developmental process and [in creating] the application. We want to hear from them and their voice about what they need to contribute,” said Mona.
Mona said that LIT has already been a success with the young people who participated.
“Jersey, [one of this year’s LIT staff], already has plans to reattend the next camp with her siblings. She did amazing; she’s only fifteen! Every year, we try to give them more leadership skills,” said Mona.
As we move into brighter times, Camp Catch-Up proves that even if it rains, we can still create fun, learning, and engagement for all our children to thrive.
To learn more about Camp Catch-Up and see upcoming summer/fall dates, visit www.campcatchup.org.