year 2, week 14: this week i'm gonna... help siblings stay connected.
Thirteen-year-old Kim stands in front of a group of 125 fellow campers in a large dining hall at Camp To Belong. In her arms, she cradles a pillow she has just made for her 9-year-old brother, Jesse, who waits beside her to receive it.
The pillow has been carefully decorated with velvet trim. But what makes it special is the message Kim has written on it. She begins to read the words out loud so that both Jesse and the other children can hear them, trying to keep her voice steady as her tears begin.
"I just wanted to tell you that I love you and you're one of the best things that's ever happened to me," Kim says softly. "If I lost you, I don't know how I could go on with my life. I know it's hard not being home, but if we stick together, then we'll get through this. Don't ever give up. I'll never stop loving you."
In some ways, Camp To Belong is a regular summer camp with swimming, crafts, and camp fires... but the purpose of Camp To Belong is unique. The camp, a program of Sibling Connections, is a place for siblings who have been separated in the foster care system to connect and work through feelings of deep loss, sadness, anger, uncertainty, and love.
The camp tries to build sibling ties in a variety of ways. Children make "sibling pillows," which are keepsake pillows like Kim's, decorated with messages they write for their siblings. Siblings are encouraged to participate in activities together, and children are given photos of each other to keep as mementos.
One camp participant says, "When you're at Camp To Belong, it just fills your heart up. It makes you want to cry and say, 'Wow. I have brothers and sisters that love me.'"
Founded in 2005, the mission of Sibling Connections is to support the creation of enduring family relationships and community connections for sisters and brothers separated by the foster care system in Massachusetts. Their vision is for every child who is removed from their home and placed in the foster care system to maintain their sibling bond and be rooted in and surrounded by a community caring people invested in their health and well being.
Sibling Connections offers four programs for reuniting siblings who have been separated by their placement in foster care:
- Camp To Belong Massachusetts - a week-long summer camp held every August where campers take part in events and activities designed to help deepen sibling connections
- Sibling Sundays - monthly one-day reunion opportunities where siblings can play games, participate in animal therapy, make crafts, have lunch, and enjoy other fun activities together
- Weekend Retreat - gives 30 siblings the opportunity to spend a weekend of fun together
- Youth Leadership Program - an opportunity for past Camp to Belong attendees to serve as camp counselors and peer role models to other youth who have or are experiencing foster care
Sibling Connections was founded in 2005 by child advocate Judy Cockerton. Judy began her journey in 1999, when she and her husband became foster parents to two sisters. Through these two beautiful little girls, Judy began learning about the realities of life for children who experience foster care. Judy felt compelled to do more.
“It was so dismal,” Judy recalls. “These children had social workers and professionals advocating for them. But I didn’t see a lot of regular folks out there in the world saying, ‘These children placed in the public foster system are worthy of our investment and our attention.’”
The cornerstone of Judy’s campaign to change the foster care system is her belief that “Americans think the only two ways they can support a child placed in foster care is to step up and either become a foster parent or adopt a child from foster care, and that’s too much to ask of most people.”
Since Judy began her quest to “re-envision foster care,” she has inspired more than 600 people to help foster children in Massachusetts. Volunteers serve as mentors, tutors, and camp counselors. Cockerton sees herself continuing this work for years to come: “I want to be part of creating new norms in foster care that are so much more humane. It’s wonderful to think that I have a shot at that.”
Notes for this week:
- April 10th is National Sibling Day! Hug your brother or sister if you have one!
- Our collective givetwig donation will sponsor approximately 1 or 2 Sibling Sunday events.
- For more information regarding Sibling Connections, please check out their website.
this week i'm gonna donate to Sibling Connections.