Two weekends ago, I had the privilege of camping at Lithia Springs State Park with 9 new friends, ages 9-12. Each was living in a foster care arrangement, some with relatives, most in group homes like A Kids Place. For each friend, this was their first experience camping which included setting up their own tent, sleeping in a sleeping bag, cooking s’mores and going on a night hike with glow sticks. My dear friend Joanie Halfaker arranged this weekend for these children. Her inspiration was in part her love of family camping with her husband, Dave, and her four children. And her acute understanding of how overtaxed the foster care system is in our area. Voila, a camping weekend was arranged and a great time was had by all.
You know that when most of these youngsters asked if we were going camping the following weekend, would we put their name on the list? that we were on to something great.
Joanie was joined by her husband, two adult children, Jennifer Weston (family friend and camper extraordinaire), myself and another family chaperoning, and also camping for their first time!
Joanie explored the possibility of creating this weekend for the foster children with leadership at the Eckerd Foundation. Eckerd has a full array of family and children-centric programs, of which foster care is a key component. She also contacted Virginia Johnson, the executive director of A Kid’s Place. A Kid’s Place keeps sibling groups together in a residential facility, just up the street from the park! All of the youngsters were enthusiastic, friendly and well mannered.
I was fortunate to be part of this wonderful weekend and hope to be invited to join this same group or an expanded group of “new campers” in the next few months.