August 16, 2004
Camp to Belong Maine Opens This Weekend
HHS Commissioner, John R. Nicholas, said that the opening of Camp to Belong Maine coincides with the new department’s mission to strengthen families. “We believe Camp To Belong Maine will have a positive influence on a child welfare system that is striving to change and seeking engagement from community partners,” Nicholas added. “We need to continue to make these kinds of meaningful changes for brothers and sisters in care.”
The idea to bring Camp to Belong to Maine began several years ago when a young woman who had been in Maine’s foster care system and had been separated from her sibling contacted Lynn Price, the nationally acclaimed founder of Camp to Belong. Price also grew up in foster care and had the same experience of being separated from her sister as a child and of rebuilding that relationship later in life. She founded Camp to Belong in Colorado ten years ago in the hope that separated siblings could have a better chance to build memories together and strengthen their bond. Beyond that, she was determined to change the system and reduce the frequency of this kind of separation.
Over the past year, Price has been working with HHS Staff and a Coalition of Community Partners to establish a Camp To Belong Maine and she is here again this week to celebrate the opening of this new program. “I am so excited to welcome Camp To Belong Maine to our family,” she said “and I am thrilled that so many businesses, educational institutions and individuals have shown such a sincere interest and active participation in our quest to give siblings their right to reunite.”
Camp To Belong Maine will be staffed by volunteers from Maine and from across the country. They include staff from HHS, the University of Southern Maine as well as nurses, teachers and former youth in care. In preparation for this week, volunteer counselors from Maine have participated at Camp to Belong Colorado for the past four summers six and HHS has sent sibling groups to spend time together at Camp To Belong Colorado.
Bob Straus, the Director of Camp Wigwam and the host for this week’s program, is one of many community partners who have contributed to the successful opening of Camp to Belong Maine. “Lynn’s commitment to improve the lives of children has been an inspiration and motivation for all of us here in Maine who work with kids,” Straus added. “We are all so proud to be a part of this.”
Camp activities will include canoeing, hiking, and wall climbing as well as opportunities for peer interaction and experiential learning. There will be a ‘Life Seminar,’ to explore post-foster care education and career planning, including a field trip to the campus of the University of Southern Maine. In addition, the week will include special events and art programs designed to providing opportunities for emotional expression between siblings. As part of this project, each camper will create a unique travel-sized pillow and present it to their siblings at the end of the week as a tangible reminder of the family they can take with them when camp ends.
Approximately 38 percent of all siblings in foster care in Maine are placed together. HHS’s strategic plan calls for an additional increase of 10 percent before October of this year. “Like all states, we have room for improvement in scheduling visits and keeping up contacts in situations where kids are not together,” Commissioner Nicholas added. “That is why we are so excited about the opening of Camp to Belong Maine.”
More information about becoming a foster or adoptive parent is available from A Family for ME, on the web at www.afamilyforme.org or by calling, toll free, 877 505-0545.