PORT ORCHARD – About 100 brothers and sisters separated by placements in foster, relative or adoptive care will reunite for five days at Camp To Belong Washington, a program of Sibling Strong, a Washington non-profit. This year’s camp is from June 27 to July 1 at Miracle Ranch in Port Orchard.
Brothers and sisters often are our greatest supports, friends and teachers when growing up. Yet many of the 8,800 Washington children placed in out-of-home care each year are separated from their siblings because of various factors, including a shortage of foster homes with enough room to take in all the children of a family.
For children already experiencing the trauma that accompanies being placed into out-of-home care, this means their sense of identity and security are further upset, adding to feelings of anxiety, grief and isolation. Some children get to see each other only once a year or have only short visits at a state office. Some, because of the covid pandemic or a move out of the state, have not seen each other for a few years. Occasionally, sisters and brothers meet for the first time at Camp To Belong.
“This camp gives these kids a chance just to be kids, without adults taking notes or asking probing questions,” said Sibling Strong Director Deb Kennedy. “We also give them a message of empowerment, that their past does not define their future, and they get to write the rest of their life story. They also get to meet others who share a similar life journey and realize they are not alone.”
Camp To Belong International, of which Washington’s camp is a member, began 27 years ago. It was founded by Lynn Price, who did not know she had a sister until she was eight years old and living in foster care. She will take part in the Washington camp this year.
The camp has reunited more than 1,300 siblings between 8 and 18 since its established in 2009. Its parent organization, Sibling Strong, hosts sibling get-togethers and activities around the state, including Christmas parties. It is the only organization reuniting separated siblings in Washington.
It is an exciting, often emotional, week filled with normal camp activities as well as events designed to help siblings reconnect. For instance, campers have family portraits done, make scrapbooks and write messages on pillows and quilts to their siblings, who take them home to remind their brothers and sisters they are not alone.
Former campers have declared the camp “like Christmas” and “like going on my first roller coaster ride.” One of last year’s campers said, “My mom says camp is like couples therapy, only for siblings.”
This year’s theme, Time Machine, will be carried out on Tuesday’s Carnival Night, when kids don futuristic dress; at Wednesday’s Birthday Party Night, when they dress for the 1950s; and Thursday’s Formal Night, when they dress 1920s style. Clothing for some events is provided by a long-time partner, the Lake Sammamish chapter of the National Charity League.
For campers 14 years and older, a half-day Life Seminar helps them envision a future they can begin shaping for themselves. The seminar includes information on college scholarships and supports, military options, tech schools and much more.
Finally, at night, campers share their stories and hear stories of inspiration around the campfire.
“We want these kids to be victors, not victims,” Price often tells campers.
To learn more about Camp To Belong Washington, or for information about volunteering, visit the Sibling Strong website.