“So, what did you do this weekend?”
Usually, I don’t have a great answer for this popular Monday morning question. Hmmm… I played with my cats, read a little, did some yard work, went for a run, maybe went out to dinner… Yup, that pretty much summarizes a typical weekend in my life.
A few weeks ago, however, my answer was a little different: “I had an amazing, incredibly heartwarming, life-altering experience!”
What might that experience be, you ask?
I went to camp.
Camp Catch-Up, through the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation (NCFF), is a one-of-a-kind, annual camp that brings together siblings separated by foster care or adoption for three days of pure, unbridled childhood fun. Free of cost to the youth, Camp Catch-Up reunites siblings ages 8-19 who may not have seen each other for weeks, months, or even years and gives them a chance to “catch up.”
Typically, two camps are held each year – one in the western area of the state and one in the eastern. Due to popular demand, three camps were offered this year. This June marked my fourth year at Camp Catch-Up, and I’ll be heading back again in August.
On June 14th, sibling groups as small as two or as large as seven (or sometimes even larger!) from all across Nebraska met at the Eastern Nebraska 4-H Center in Gretna for a weekend of fun. Each of us staff members are assigned one sibling group, who we stick with from the moment they step off the bus on Thursday evening to the moment they step back on on Sunday afternoon.
Our ultimate goal for the weekend is really pretty simple: make sure our kids have the best weekend ever. The amazing NCFF staff responsible for organizing Camp Catch-Up make this pretty easy for us. Siblings can enjoy a number of fun bonding activities, including creating and racing cardboard “family cars,” encouraging each other on the ropes courses, and getting a professional picture taken while wearing matching sibling shirts. And of course there are plenty of other, more traditional camp activities for some plain old fun: swimming time, canoeing, archery, and hiking.
Camp Catch-Up allows these siblings, many of whom have had to grow up WAY too fast, a brief solace to forget their everyday worries and just be kids. Better yet, their siblings are right alongside them, making memories they will never, ever forget.
And the staff carry those memories as well. The number of staff who make time in their busy schedules to keep coming back to camp year after year is pretty incredible. We arrange trips around it, skip important meetings for it, and even factor it into major life decisions (wedding dates, flexibility of new job opportunities).
So what keeps us all coming back? What makes this camp feel like such a life-changing experience? It’s the simple moments, really. It’s hearing one of my kids say that they haven’t had this much fun in years, seeing one rest their head on the other’s shoulder during our nightly campfire, or watching them finally put their sibling bickering to the side and run their hearts out at the Family Cars Race. It’s the incredible sense of pride and affection I suddenly begin to feel toward these kids I only just met two days before. The most rewarding times by far, though, are the “hellos,” when they’re both so incredibly ecstatic to see each other again and beyond excited (albeit a little nervous) to see what camp holds for them, and the “goodbyes,” when you watch them hug, not wanting to let go, as they know that means the weekend is over. Moments like those are what make Camp Catch-Up different from every other weekend camp out there. Moments like those are what keep me coming back.
Each year as camp draws to a close, I convince myself that the “goodbyes” won’t be as bad. We’re all tired, smelly, and clearly ready for a break from the wilderness. One extended hug and an “I’ll miss you” later, though, and I’m a goner.
Even now, as I picture their tearful faces waving at me from the bus as it drives away, I can’t wait to hear that wonderful chant once again…
Get up early
Ride the bus
All the way
To Camp Catch-Up
‘Cause there’s no place that I’d rather be
Than here at Camp Catch-Up with my siblings and me
August can’t come soon enough.