Camp Catch-Up, a program of the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation (NCFF), has offered siblings separated by foster care, adoption, and guardianships a chance to come together at a summer camp for the last 11 years, at no cost to them.
Children and youth ages 8-19 are dropped off or can take a bus to a fun bonding weekend with their brothers and sisters. Through generous donations and the support of NCFF, Camp Catch-Up has expanded to allow for more campers in camps in the northern, western and eastern parts of the state. Children who attended camp also received free blankets, pillows, and duffel bags to take home.
This year, two of Nebraska Appleseed’s Child Welfare legal clerks volunteered as camp staff with Camp Catch-Up, making this a new Appleseed Tradition. Clerks Rene’ Cramer and Alex Lierz share their experiences.
“Rene’ spread the word about the camp, and I had to be a part of it myself,” says clerk Alex Lierz. “I thought it would also be a great opportunity to interact with some of the children I will be helping through my legal work someday.”
This was Alex’s first experience at Camp Catch-Up. She went to the Eastern Nebraska camp in Gretna and had this to say about her experience:
I was assigned a sibling group of three children who were separated in foster care. It was rewarding to watch them work through the fears all children face at camp – fear of heights on the tight rope, fear of the dark, fear of new and strange food, etc. – and they got to do that together.
Not only did the kids have fun, but I also had a blast. I had another co-staff member (our camp ratio is 2 campers to 1 staff) and together we started one crazy canoe battle. This consisted of splashing other canoe’s using paddles and it ended with everyone in the vicinity completely soaked. The canoes were also great in teaching the children to trust each other and work together to paddle in sync and maneuver around the lake.
Camp Catch-Up is great and I wish I had heard about it sooner. It is a unique opportunity for siblings in separate placements and they get to leave on the last day of camp with fun memories of time well-spent with their brothers and sisters.
This was not Rene’ Cramer’s first time at Camp Catch-Up. She has volunteered at the Northern Nebraska camp in Fremont for the last two years:
Another summer, another Camp Catch-Up. I believe that this type of experience, getting to know the youth on a personal rather than professional level, is the key to a successful career in the child welfare field. At camp, you are with these youth for three days straight, 24 hours a day.
Each year gets better. As my sibling group got off the bus, they were immediately greeted with Catch-Up’s version of the Nebraska tunnel walk. I immediately found my sibling group, gave them the tour, and tried to find out what I had common with my group. Not to my surprise, we had a lot in common: we all loved double chocolate chip cookies and basketball. As soon as these connections were established, we quickly developed rapport and had an amazing weekend full of bonding and excitement!
Camp Catch-Up is able to reunite more than 150 siblings every year thanks to the efforts of NCFF and the many volunteer camp staff, nurses, and directors. As Rene’ explains, “Camp Catch-Up is a great opportunity to get involved even if you don’t work in child welfare. Gaining a glimpse of what youth in the system go through is a valuable experience for anyone.”