By RHEANA MURRAY
(Good Morning America)Brothers and sisters torn apart by foster care or adoption get to see each other for one glorious week every year, at a summer camp that aims to reconnect separated siblings.
For one counselor, the reunion was so touching she decided to take three campers home – permanently, so they would never be separated again.
Tammy Gerber, a realtor in Las Vegas, told ABC News she had no idea what she was getting herself into when she signed up to be a volunteer at Camp To Belong for a week in 2009, but had no doubts about starting a family when she met three inseparable siblings, two boys and one girl, who all lived in different foster care homes at the time.
(Courtesy Tammy Gerber)
Karen Schimmels, director of Camp To Belong Oregon, says it never gets old to see the siblings reunite.
“It makes me cry every time,” she told ABC News. “It’s very touching. And this year, we had three siblings that flew in from Hawaii and three siblings who live here in Oregon, and they hadn’t seen each other in four years. That was the best dog pile I’ve ever seen.”
“You see tears, you see a lot of hugs,” Schimmels added. “They’re just really happy to be together and it’s really unfortunate they can’t.”
The camp is open to children ages 8 to 21 who have been separated from their siblings by any type of living situation, including foster, adoptive and kinship care. There are traditional activities like swimming, horseback riding and a talent show, along with the camp’s “signature programs,” like birthday parties.
“Most often, they do not get to celebrate their birthdays together,” Schimmels said. “So there’s a hall decorated with streamers and balloons and every single sibling group gets a birthday cake with their names on it, and they share ice cream and have a party.”
Schimmels’ own family is an example of how moving the experience is – she adopted a camper in 2012.
Gerber and her husband legally adopted their children in 2013. The two boys are now 13 and 17, and their daughter is 14.
“We just kind of had to hit the ground running,” Gerber said. “There was some catching up to do in school. There was definitely an adjustment period for them, learning how to be out of foster care. Like, hey, you guys can share the same tube of toothpaste.”
It wasn’t always easy, but for Gerber and her family, it was a happy ending.
“I was afraid that somehow this might be fake, because they were older, that they would never see me as their mom,” she said. “But at this point, we’re so intertwined; I would be their fake mom anyway. My youngest son and my husband are best buddies. All the blending, it’s really cool. It’s challenging for sure, but we’re really jiving. I just wish more people knew about adoption – it’s just another avenue to create a family.”
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