Monday, August 05, 2013

Beyond FUN: Camp to Belong

My first babysitting job was to watch a newborn for the foster family next door for a dollar an hour in the summer of 1977. I remember the year because I also remember I was eleven. Eleven and very proud to hold that baby—his name was Jimmy—and feel his tiny hand grab hold of my finger as though for dear life. I only watched him for a little while that day, but I’ll never forget him. 
Jimmy didn’t stay long at the foster home next door and soon enough there was a new baby in my own home to cuddle and wonder over so I don’t remember missing him. Foster families worked that way, I learned. Some kids stayed a long time and were adopted, but most stayed for a few weeks or months at most.

Two little girls, sisters who’d been abused somehow, arrived when I was a little older, maybe thirteen or fourteen. I remember not wanting to know what had happened to them, and am glad I was never told. One of the girls was named Barbie. When I checked on her after lights out one night when I was babysitting, I opened her bedroom door to hear her talking in her sweet voice, I’m not sure to whom. I asked if she was OK and she gave me a knowing smile in the dimly lit room, and I let her be. I don’t remember seeing Barbie or her sister after that, but I hope at the very least they were able to grow up together.

NBC Nightly News aired a story tonight on the Camp to Belong summer camps for foster children who are separated from their siblings. The siblings are reunited for a week during which they can play together, get to know each other a bit, do some fun summertime stuff together, even give each other birthday presents from a stash of donated gifts. The woman who started these camps (including one in Colorado which actually runs next week) was inspired to do so because she’d grown up separated from her sister. Now there are camps across the U.S. and in Australia.

It’s amazing what one person with a vision can accomplish.

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