When Chloe Mcshannon ran away from her foster care placements as a teenager, one day she realized that if she didn’t return to school, she’d miss her final exams.
That, among many other turning points, led this remarkable young woman to where she is today—as a Camp Catch-Up intern.
That day, whatever unnamable force that pulled Chloe back to school is the same one that brings her back for her second year of Camp Catch-Up. If we could assign that trait a name, we’d call it resiliency.
As she ventures closer to graduation at Southeast Community College (SCC) in Lincoln, Nebraska, Chloe’s lived experience in the foster care system may never be behind her. Still, she’s eager to use her memories to create positive change.
A Nebraska Children and Families Foundation program, Camp Catch-Up (CCU) operates under the Connected Youth Initiative (CYI) umbrella. Camp Catch-Up is designed for siblings between 8-19 who are separated by foster care placements to reunite for several fun-filled days of activities and relaxation. All of these efforts are to maintain, strengthen, and sometimes repair their sibling relationships. While we can’t put these sibling groups back together in the same home, we can give them a safe, exciting weekend together to share memories, laugh, and rekindle their bond with new traditions.
As an organization devoted to creating positive outcomes for children, youth, and families, we recognize that siblings are essential relationships. Being away from one’s family and siblings can be a stressful endeavor. Therefore, we’re thankful to people like Chloe, who represents the heart of Camp Catch-Up.
Camp Catch-Up, to be sure, does present regular and fun aspects of a traditional camp. During a recent session at Camp Fontanelle, in Fontanelle, Nebraska, campers reunited from June 2-5 for ziplining, a talent show, and arts and crafts.
On the other hand, Camp Catch-Up isn’t just fun and games. Chloe said that she and the other counselors must be prepared for emotional moments–for themselves and their campers.
As someone whose passion resides in helping others, however, Chloe was well prepared.
In her second year as a counselor, although parts of the camp can be a challenge, as many campers are going through tremendous difficulties and transitions, Chloe said these moments are well worth it.
In addition to working as a camp counselor for her internship, Chloe is responsible for many other CCU-related projects, including providing administrative duties and functioning as an on-call support staff member.
“If a counselor is overwhelmed, I help with the campers and provide breaks for them,” said Chloe. She also supervises all camp activities.
When she’s not at Camp, Chloe plays an essential part in the behind-the-scenes camp preparation.
“Before camp, there’s a lot of paperwork for us to do, such as [completing] caregiver reports,” said Chloe. “We call the campers’ foster and adopted families and get more info on the camper such as triggers, strengths, how to de-escalate them, and medical information,” said Chloe.
Finally, Chloe serves as the right-hand person of the camp director.
“I go shopping for supplies like sleeping bags, sensory toys, and arts and crafts. I’m here to take some responsibility off Mona, so whatever she needs, I can do,” said Chloe.
Although she’s busy, Chloe said she loves her job.
“I find it heartwarming to provide a stable environment, whether for four or five days, for kids to be kids. They want to parent each other. You get to facilitate the sibling connections!” she said.
Chloe said that as she moves through her challenging past, her resiliency and clarity kick into gear. She names her position as a camp counselor as one of those energizing aspects.
“I spent a lot of time when I got out of foster care feeling bad for myself until I realized I could take that energy and turn it into something positive; Mona [Camp Catch-Up Director] and camp have helped me do that,” she said.
Chloe said that empathy helps her connect with campers.
“To learn more about the [campers], we have to listen. Because I have my own experience in the foster care system, [some instances are] triggering for me,” she said.
Still, Chloe presses on and continues to thrive in her role.
“I know doing these little things is giving these kids something positive to look forward to, role models, positive experiences, and activities to focus on; I love it,” she said.
One particular Camp Catch-Up exchange was especially powerful for Chloe.
Chloe said as camp drew to a close, everyone was singing a song, one of which hit a camper—and Chloe—in the heart.
As camp ends, a realistic fear plagues many campers: they must leave their siblings again in a few short hours, sometimes not knowing when they’ll next see each other.
“[One camper] said he didn’t want to leave because [when he’s here], he gets to hang out with his [siblings],” said Chloe.
“That exchange was heartbreaking and heartwarming; heartbreaking to see what kind of pain these kids are in; heartwarming to know that we can alleviate it in some way with camp,” she said.
Moreover, Chloe said the interaction was even more potent because the camper strikingly resembled her younger brother.
“His situation was similar to mine, too,” she said. “He talked about how his older sister had been a runaway for a while. It made me reflect on how I made my siblings feel when I was a runaway,” she said.
Chloe said, “He was worried about [his sister], and feared for her safety; I felt bad that I put my siblings in a situation to feel that way,”
Still, that pull draws Chloe back to this special event, even during uncomfortable moments.
“I have to remember I am there for the kids, so when that [triggering event] happened at camp, I didn’t want that camper to know that he triggered me or made me cry. He couldn’t have known. I’m staff; I want to support them and make them feel safe.”
Chloe said she’s thankful to have former foster parents and a partner who are there for her during these turbulent moments.
When asked what keeps her coming back, Chloe said, “It’s the experience we offer the [siblings]. We get to bring them to camp, even though separated, and give them this opportunity.”
Chloe said the campers’ emotional intensity varies according to the siblings’ circumstances.
“For some kids, [reuniting] is a big deal. They live three or four hours away from each other! For kids who crave that relationship with their family, [these interactions] are important to them and their emotional growth. They’ve experienced enough. They at the very least deserve to have a relationship with their siblings,” she said.
Chloe said, “These kids experience so many big emotions. When I say ‘big,’ I don’t mean big for kids. These emotions are big, even for adults! And [the campers may have a] hard time navigating them,” she said.
Of course, for Chloe, her commitment resides in compassion, strengthened by her experience in foster care and being separated from her siblings.
Looking back on her past, Chloe said she had a change of heart once she realized that, although she couldn’t be with her family, she could still serve as a role model for them.
“Eventually, I knew that I wanted to be someone my siblings could look up to; I wanted them to know I wouldn’t quit,” she said.
“They were both young, so they took [our separation] pretty hard, and because they were young, it was difficult for them to express [their feelings],” she said.
Chloe intends to take a professional high route in response to her and her siblings’ separation.
She’s currently attending SCC and studying psychology and sociology, with plans to transfer to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) in the fall.
Above all, she’s grateful to study and work with her community.
Chloe is also a Beyond School Bells (BSB) intern through Nebraska Children’s afterschool network, where she’ll continue to work once her Camp Catch-Up internship is up in August.
Chloe said that one of her earlier jobs sparked her passion for helping others.
“The first job I had helped me realize what kind of place I wanted to work for; it was the Black Market Clothing Exchange,” said Chloe. “The owner was the sweetest person I’ve ever met and, aside from Mona [at Camp Catch-Up], the best boss I’ve ever had.”
Not only was her manager kind; Chloe resonated with the thrift store’s socially-conscious mission.
“The goal was to remove waste from Lincoln and repurpose items, including turning them into handbags and dog beds. I then realized I could have a job and take an active part in helping my community!” said Chloe.
When Felipe Longoria, one of our partners at the Central Plains Center for Services (CPCS), first told Chloe about the role as a Camp Catch-Up intern, she was excited.
“Camp Catch-Up has a very special place in my heart,” she said.
Chloe said that one of the highlights of past camps is when the campers exit the bus.
“When the campers get dropped off, the staff form a tunnel for kids to run through!” said Chloe. “[Throughout this] moment where siblings will run through [the tunnel] and hug each other; [the scene is] just so heartwarming. They give each other that warm embrace; it’s sweet.”
From there, Chloe said that the staff facilitates more fun reunion activities.
“We ziplined, bounced all over bounce pillows, did archery, and had fun team-building activities where kids took cardboard boxes and made race cars out of them,” said Chloe.
“The projects looked amazing. [The campers] did them with their siblings, and it was awesome to see how creative they could [be],” she said.
Chloe said she was impressed by the campers’ talent.
“One [camper] painted a [cardboard race car] like a tiger and had cut out and painted four legs and still had space to get in there and run around. There was a Shrek one with a license plate that said, ‘Get out of my swamp!’ That one won the best car award,” she said.
Another impactful event was the talent show.
“We have young campers with teenage siblings, so it may be hard to make that connection between a teen and a six-year-old, but I loved seeing the sibling connection, and them dancing and singing together. These two campers did a duet, a little love song. These are memories they will hold on to very dearly,” she said.
Chloe continues to plan her future after her UNL transfer in the fall as a voice for systems-involved young people.
“My ideal career is to advocate for siblings before they’re separated into different foster care placements,” she said.
“If I could get a psych degree and argue before a judge, hopefully, we’d stop separating the kids [from each other],” she said. “When you separate them from their parents and each other, that’s trauma on top of trauma. I want to keep working with Camp Catch-Up in addition to those [efforts] while studying law,” said Chloe.
Overall, Chloe remains committed to creating inspiring changes for herself and others.
“If I can make someone feel better about the course of their life, to understand it may be rocky right now, but [things will] get better, then I’ve done something good.”
[…] Read more CYI success stories […]