Nebraska Children and Families Foundation’s work includes many meaningful initiatives. There’s one, however, that’s extra special. Camp Catch-Up (CCU) is a moving event that takes place during the summer and fall.
Like all our work, CCU is intentional. The program echoes our mission for families to thrive, including those that have endured struggles.
Our Connected Youth Initiative (CYI) creates positive outcomes for youth and young adults between 14-26 who experienced child welfare, foster care, juvenile justice, probation, human trafficking, homelessness, and other challenges.
CCU, a CYI program, reunites siblings separated by foster care placements at camp, where they pursue everything from art to STEM experiments to catching up with one another.
For anyone unfamiliar with the foster care system, one thing to know is that these young people have endured a lot. Siblings are often essential to living a happy, connected life, especially given the difficulties these young campers have faced. We’re pleased to provide camp as an opportunity for these families to bond with their first and best friends!
Mona Tarin, CCU Director, had a lot of positive things to say about this heartwarming time. This year’s camp started and ended on a heartfelt note. Camp Fontanelle was the first summer session that took place in Eastern Nebraska from June 2-5, and a highly anticipated one.
The event kicked off with groups of siblings creating cars as part of a STEM project. One of the highlights included a Think Make Create™ (TMC ™) trailer! This mobile classroom made a special appearance, thanks to Nebraska Children’s afterschool network, Beyond School Bells (BSB)!
Luckily, one of the camp counselors, Alana Pearson, works at Omaha’s Oakland Craig Public Schools. Alana was also a longtime Nebraska Children employee and director of Camp Catch-Up before Mona. Since the school partners with BSB, Alana was able to bring the TMC™ to the camp! These trailers are packed with arts, crafts, and STEM activity materials, which the campers dove into with excitement.
“That was so cool, having that partnership with BSB,” said Mona.
Mona said this year’s camp was well attended, with around 40 campers between 7-19 years old. Mona said that the broad age range creates a lasting bond among the attendees.
“The campers do well together; we put them in mixed-age groups with their siblings and two or three families. They’re very kind to each other. Younger kids give the older kids energy. And that’s good energy. It’s a good mix,” said Mona.
As for making cardboard cars, the campers created some incredible work using the trailer’s materials.
Mona said, “We gathered cardboard, tape, and paint, and we [asked the campers], ‘What would your family car look like?’ We had so many great cars. It was just phenomenal. There was a hotrod, a monster truck. They raced their cars afterward. On the last day, the campers received awards for everything, including the best car,” she said.
Another noteworthy part of the camp included when eight families showed up toward the end to support their campers!
Mona said, “We invited families to watch the awards that the campers received and have lunch with us. We had a great number of families [attend]. Some campers, who were adopted, had both families there!”
There were also peddling bikes, Gaga Ball, jumping pillows, and at the end, a talent show!
“All the activities were a great hit,” said Mona,
Mona said that this year, CCU even had a night swim! “That was amazing,” she said.
Best of all, many campers hadn’t seen their siblings in a long time, so they reunited with joy.
“A lot of them hadn’t seen each other even in the last year,” said Mona. “We had a lot of new siblings attend camp. The jumping pillow and dance party were a big thing.”
Mona said the dance party, which is a beloved CCU tradition, happened after the talent show, was exceptional. The campers ended up jumping and dancing on pillows, having fun, connecting with siblings, and making new friends.
“They were having music and fun!” said Mona.
During the arts activities, campers had a ball creating tie-dyed shirts. “They had lots of other projects, too,” said Mona. “We had crafts from an art room where they made puppets, too.”
This year, the campers even celebrated their birthdays. “They made a birthday card to send to their siblings during the year. Then, they signed the cards, and I mailed them out to their siblings,” said Mona.
“There were a lot of arts activities this year!” she said. “They also created photo frames for a picture of them with their siblings. Every year, they get to make those frames, then leave with a photo of them and their family.”
After the talent show, Mona said one of the ending events was the campfire. There were emotions, as campers knew they’d miss their siblings and even those family members who weren’t present.
“The campfire is an especially emotional time,” said Mona. “We usually have one every night, but the last one is where kids express why they love camp.”
Mona said she even felt emotional at the beginning of camp.
“This year, families brought the campers, although we usually provide transportation,” she said.
“The emotional time was when you see all the kids come in; we had a line of people. The counselors create a tunnel. When the kids walk through the tunnel, we announce their names. Their siblings arrive, as we wait for them.”
Mona said she feels an incredible physical response as the campers walk through the tunnel.
“I get goosebumps; my heart smiles. You get those emotions when they first see each other,” she said.
Although summer is ending all too fast, CCU is far from done. Mona and her team are creating new and exciting activities, so more siblings can continue to bond, not only during the summer but also into the fall! We can’t wait for Camp Solaris, Firth NE: September 23-25.
Even though the seasons will change, Nebraska Children’s dedication remains the same: for all children, youth, and families to thrive throughout the year. We look forward to what happens next.