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  • Bob Partlow

Camp To Belong: “Couples Therapy For Siblings”

Many ways can describe the magnetism of Camp To Belong, which brings together in a six-day summer camp siblings separated due to foster, relative or adoptive care.

This is one: “My mom says camp is like couples therapy; only for siblings,” said one camper.

This is another: “This is my home here because it reminds me why we do what we do,” said national CTB founder Lynn Price, who spent part of her three-day visit sitting on the floor with kids, helping them wrap birthday presents for their siblings – and encouraging them in their young life journeys.

With Covid, putting on a camp for the 12th year was never a given. But Camp Director Deb Kennedy worked with the Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families, local health officials and host site Miracle Ranch in Port Orchard to navigate thorny pandemic issues so siblings could spend time with each other – time robbed of them during the pandemic.

Because of cabin capacity, instead of the usual 100 campers for six days, we had two groups of 40+ each, who spent either Monday-Wednesday or Wednesday-Friday at camp. All campers had to have either proof of vaccination, or a negative Covid test within 72 hours of camp and all had their temperatures checked each morning. Masks were worn indoors.

A common theme emerged from campers and their caregivers who came to pick them up: “I wish this could have been the whole week.“

Short though it was, the experience was fully savored by the campers.

“This is the nicest place I’ve ever stayed,” said one camper.

Arrival began with campers getting a picture with CC the Panda, the mascot of Coordinated Care, which helps manage medical needs for kids in foster care. Coordinated Care has become a great new partner with camp.

Emotions poured out in words they wrote on pillows and quilts their siblings took home.

“Kiss me when you miss me. Hug me when you love me,” one sister wrote on a pillow.

“We still have our pillows from three years ago and we take them to bed with us each night,” said one brother about himself and his brother.

“I love you more than I love Mexican food,” said one. “If you ever need anything, call me” – with his phone number written.

But siblings being siblings, of course, one wrote, “I hope you step on a Lego (in the nicest way) so you will remember me!”

Wrote another: “You Can Do It! I think.”

They shopped for birthday presents – they usually do not spend birthdays together. More than 150 presents had been donated. Camper Alex said this of his present from his sister Bella.

“My life just got more valuable because of the gifts my sister got me.” Others spoke volumes about sibling disconnection when they stepped into the room of presents unsure what to pick because they didn’t live with her brother. “He’s going to have to tell me what he likes,” said one sister sadly.

An all-camp birthday party was held, where the campers exchanged their gifts.

They also enjoyed a new event at camp – “Paint and Snack.” With verbal directions on a video, they painted a picture of mountains, a stream and tree.

“Look, I’m an artist,” said Alex.

Brothers Connor and Jordan signed their pictures as Bob Ross and Picasso.

Campers age 14+ enjoyed a Life Seminar, with television performer Barbara Davis from California guiding them through life choices.

With the song “True Colors” playing quietly in the meeting hall, campers filled out forms about their future – several joined in singing the song about letting their true colors come shining through.

Campers younger than fourteen went through a “Sensory Station,” picking from a large variety of baubles, beads, bands, glitter and other items to create their own unique camp souvenir. “I’m so glad I’m 13,” laughed a camper, anticipating the fun ahead as she waited her turn to pick her items.

All those activities were on top of the boating, swimming, archery, horseback riding and other usual camp activities.

Counselors wrote notes of appreciation for each other. Many had returned from years past to see the campers enjoy what is often a life-changing experience.

Especially given the smaller numbers of campers at each session, there was a sense of closeness and bonding between the counselors and between counselors and campers greater even than during a normal year.

“Thank you for changing my life,” one younger counselor wrote to an older counselor.

“Your kindness is contagious,” wrote another.

“Thanks for being that one caring adult,” (in the lives of children), said another.

Counselors helped raise money through a 5K fun run du

ing camp, which was an all- camp scavenger hunt that ended with head counselor John Tilly receiving pies in the face.

Part of the 2021 camp happiness was the feeling that we had overcome all obstacles to hold it. Changes aplenty are coming for 2022.

The camp will still be held under the name Camp To Belong, but that will merge into the name Sibling Strong, to reflect our outreach to do more year-around half-day and full-day events.

Many events that could not occur this year, Formal Night, Carnival Night, Rodeo and lots and lots of swimming, should return next year. Lynn Price will spend the entire week at camp.

The events may change, but the passion of camp will remain the same.

Said a counselor: “So many of these kids are returning and look forward all year to coming back.”

“Thank you so much for the great memories you poured into our kids,” wrote one caregiver. “They had a blast and we appreciate it.”

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