by Julie Johnson
“Our main goal is to reunite siblings who are separated in foster care,” said Lindsay Odom, executive director of Camp to Belong Alabama.
Lindsay Odom and Meredith McClure, program director, have been friends for over 20 years, and their bond has only strengthened over their mutual love of serving their community through Camp to Belong Alabama, a nonprofit.
With 12 locations across the country and one in Australia, Camp to Belong is dedicated to bringing brothers and sisters living in separate foster homes together. For one week during the summer, siblings in foster care are brought together to engage in activities and games in an environment free from judgment.
During the course of the one-week camp, campers participate in six signature relationship-building events: opening camp fire, sibling gift, birthday party, empowerment, scrapbook and closing camp fire. The events ensure that each set of siblings will create memories together that they can not only hold in their minds but can also take home in the form of physical keepsakes.
One of the most significant parts of Camp to Belong’s summer camps is that they allow siblings to engage in daily familial rituals many of us take for granted. During camp, siblings have the opportunity to eat together, play together, comfort each other, and even tuck each other in and say goodnight.
Camp is the main event; however, Camp to Belong’s reconnecting efforts don’t end when camp ends. Throughout the year Camp to Belong sets up sibling connection events where individual sibling sets decide on an activity or outing they would like to do together, and Camp to Belong makes it possible.
Meredith stated, “If they all want to get together and go bowling, we will get them all together and take them bowling. It’s a way to reunite them throughout the year, so it’s not just one time at camp during the summer.”
Lindsay previously worked for an accounting firm in Atlanta and was first introduced to Camp to Belong by her manager. She started out as a day volunteer for Camp to Belong Georgia’s summer camp program. After the first year, Lindsay was hooked and recruited her close friend Meredith to join her as a volunteer the following season. As time passed, the friends who started as counselors, eventually moved up the ranks into leadership positions.
In Georgia, both Lindsay and Meredith served on the board of directors, two years as assistant directors and two years as directors of the Georgia branch.
“So, with all that good experience, we thought, let’s go open it in Alabama,” Lindsay said, recalling the decision to open a branch of the nonprofit at home.
Locating contacts and finding resources within the area proved to be the most difficult part of starting the Alabama branch of Camp to Belong. After being approached by Leadership Greater Huntsville, Camp to Belong Alabama was chosen by the leadership service group, The Game Changers. And that’s when doors began to open.
“Getting all of those contacts has been the biggest struggle for us. I think with any nonprofit (it) is the biggest struggle … finding the people that you need, whether it be monetarily or a grant to write, or a donation, or just some advice, and that has definitely been the biggest obstacle/blessing is getting to be partnered with them,” Lindsay explained.
Lindsay and Meredith successfully obtained 501(c)3 nonprofit distinction for Camp to Belong Alabama in 2017 and spent the year planning, fundraising, and are preparing to launch their first camp session in summer of 2019.
“This first camp will be Madison County-based because we actually have 465 kids in care in Madison County alone, and 47% of those are separated,” said Lindsay.
Camp to Belong Alabama has also forged a relationship with Montgomery DHR and has a local DHR contact as well in order to locate and select kids for their programs. And while this first year is based solely in Madison County, the non-profit’s ultimate goal is to reach out and expand to the rest of Alabama.
‘If there is a family that is in Madison County and a sibling is placed, say with a grandparent in Montgomery, they would still be able to come. There is no exclusion on that for this year,” Lindsay clarified.
It is clear that the need for Camp to Belong’s presence in Alabama is desperately needed and will be a welcome addition to the area. Keeping brothers and sisters a part of each other’s lives is important to family dynamics and well-being. It serves as an excellent placeholder until these families can be together again.
Camp to Belong Alabama’s inaugural week of camp will be held June 9 -14 at YMCA Camp Cha-La-Kee in Guntersville. If you would like to volunteer, donate, sponsor a child, or would like to hold your own donation event for supplies, you can visit their website for more information. You can also click here to send an email or call 256-655-4036.
We at Community Journal love our children, and we were excited to learn Camp to Belong will be coming to our area this year. We encourage you to consider making this a tremendous success!
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