“I didn’t get to see her for so long!” 7-year-old David said last summer at Camp HepSIBah when he finally got to see his big sister Tamara.
Both children had come to Hephzibah in late 2018 in need of healing from trauma and neglect. Tamara responded to care quickly and was placed in a foster home, but David needed additional support and stayed at Hephzibah Home, our therapeutic residential home. Both children received the care they needed; unfortunately, it meant that they were separated and living in different homes for the next stage of their healing journeys.
75 percent of all children in substitute care are separated from one or more of their siblings because many foster families don’t have the room or the resources to care for sibling groups or because the children themselves need different levels of care. It is often the last, and most devastating, loss for children who have already been separated from their parents, home, school and community.
Siblings enjoying a picnic at beautiful Camp HepSIBah a couple of years ago. For many of the children, this is their first time enjoying camping.
Camp HepSIBah was founded in 2000 to give separated brothers and sisters the chance to spend time together. For David and Tamara, it meant that they could be together to canoe, sing songs, make s’mores and get to spend time together as siblings again. Every summer, brothers and sisters living in different group, foster or adoptive homes have been reunited at this rustic woodland retreat in northwestern Illinois to create shared summer memories.
That is, until this past summer, when we were unable to hold Camp HepSIBah due to COVID-19.
This has been a big disappointment for the children. Hephzibah’s staff have done everything to get creative to put siblings in touch with each other via video conferencing; visits are now happening in-person but it is limited as the children are staying outside and using recommended guidelines for social distancing.
“This is all so heartbreaking as it is another loss for kids in care,” said Development Director Juliet Yera.
Camp HepSIBah is funded completely through private philanthropy; we are grateful to this year’s sponsors who have been extra flexible and allowed us to pivot the use of funds they’ve already donated. Special thanks to:
- Chaddick Foundation: They have allowed us to use the funds they normally donate to sibling camp to help support the purchase of a new van for the foster care program.
- Hephzibah’s Western Auxiliary: The funds raised by the Western Auxiliary Board from their event, Rock N’ Roll for Your Heart and Soul, went to help prepare 100 backpacks stuffed with school supplies that our case workers delivered to families. Board members and their family members packed the backpacks themselves!
- Hephzibah’s Children’s Resale Event: the proceeds from our resale events support camp but we only had one sale this year due to COVID; we redirected the funds from the fall 2019 sale for general program support.
- 9/11 LemonAid: Last year Hephzibah was awarded $16,500 for Camp HepSIBah by the 9/11 LemonAid “Kids Helping Kids Charity Lemonade Stand” held on the 700 Block of Bonnie Brae in River Forest. The generous community volunteers who support this event allowed us to use the funds where we needed them most to help children stay connected with their family members during the pandemic.
A camper enjoying the horses at Camp HepSIBah.
“We are incredibly grateful for this generous support,” says Julie Dvorksy, director of Family Based Services.
Despite using everything at our disposal to connect the children living at Hephzibah Home and in foster care with their siblings, the absence of Sibling Camp this year is still heartbreaking. We do everything in our power to provide normalcy and happy experiences for the children in our care to replace some of their tragic memories, but things like pandemics put a wrench in our plans.
“I know it’s not realistic to give every child instant happiness. It’s just one of the reasons that I do this work and always have,” says Juliet Yera. “We always aim for the light at the end of the tunnel for a kid or family who has struggled to find their way. We’re fighting for a better place where these children can be safe, loved and nurtured and that is what I want for them – something more, something better.”Original Article