My Weekend at Camp

Camp Catch Up guests canoe on the camp's pond
By Amy West, Nebraska Appleseed

“So, what did you do this weekend?”

Usually, I don’t have a great answer for this popular Monday morning question. Hmmm… I played with my cats, read a little, did some yard work, went for a run, maybe went out to dinner… Yup, that pretty much summarizes a typical weekend in my life.

A few weeks ago, however, my answer was a little different: “I had an amazing, incredibly heartwarming, life-altering experience!” What might that experience be, you ask? I went to camp.

Camp Catch-Up, through the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation (NCFF), is a one-of-a kind, annual camp that brings together siblings separated by foster care or adoption for three days of pure, unbridled childhood fun. Free of cost to the youth, Camp Catch-Up reunites siblings ages 8-19 who may not have seen each other for weeks, months, or even years and gives them a chance to “catch up.”

Typically, two camps are held each year – one in the western area of the state and one in the eastern. Due to popular demand, three camps were offered this year. This June marked my fifth year at Camp Catch-Up, and I can’t wait to head back next year.

On June 26th, sibling groups as small as two or as large as seven (or sometimes even larger!) from all across Nebraska met at Camp Maranatha in North Platte for a weekend of fun. Each of us staff members are assigned one sibling group, who we stick with from the moment they step off the bus on Thursday evening to the moment they step back on Sunday afternoon.

Our ultimate goal for the weekend is really pretty simple: make sure our kids have the best weekend ever. The amazing NCFF staff responsible for organizing Camp Catch-Up make this pretty easy for us. Siblings can enjoy a number of fun bonding activities, including creating and racing cardboard “family cars,” encouraging each other on the ropes courses, and getting a professional picture taken while wearing matching sibling shirts. And of course there are plenty of other, more traditional camp activities for some plain old fun: swimming time, canoeing, archery, and hiking.

Camp Catch-Up allows these siblings, many of whom have had to grow up WAY too fast, a brief solace to forget their everyday worries and just be kids. Better yet, their siblings are right alongside them, making memories they will never, ever forget.

And the staff carry those memories as well. The number of staff who make time in their busy schedules to keep coming back to camp year after year is pretty incredible. We arrange trips around it, skip important meetings for it, and even factor it into major life decisions (wedding dates, flexibility of new job opportunities).

So what keeps us all coming back? What makes this camp feel like such a life-changing experience? It’s the simple moments, really. It’s hearing one of my kids say that they haven’t had this much fun in years, seeing one rest their head on the other’s shoulder during our nightly campfire, or watching them finally put their sibling bickering to the side and run their hearts out at the Family Cars Race. It’s the incredible sense of pride and affection I suddenly begin to feel toward these kids I only just met two days before. The most rewarding times by far, though, are the “hellos,” when they’re both so incredibly ecstatic to see each other again and beyond excited (albeit a little nervous) to see what camp holds for them, and the “goodbyes,” when you watch them hug, not wanting to let go, as they know that means the weekend is over. Moments like those are what make Camp Catch-Up different from every other weekend camp out there. Moments like those are what keep me coming back.

Each year as camp draws to a close, I convince myself that the “goodbyes” won’t be as bad. We’re all tired, smelly, and clearly ready for a break from the wilderness. One extended hug and an “I’ll miss you” later, though, and I’m a goner.

Even now, as I picture their tearful faces waving at me from the bus as it drives away, I can’t wait to hear that wonderful chant once again…

Get up early
Ride the bus
All the way
To Camp Catch-Up
‘Cause there’s no place that I’d rather be
Than here at Camp Catch-Up with my siblings and me
August can’t come soon enough.



This blog post was originally published at the Nebraska Appleseed Blog in July 2012 and has been updated with permission from the author.

Nebraska Juvenile Justice Reform Update

By Jim Bennett, Reentry Program Specialist, Office of Probation Administration

Juvenile justice reform is well underway in the State of Nebraska with the passage of Legislative Bill 561 introduced by Sen. Brad Ashford (I-Omaha) in May 2013. LB 561 moved all supervision of delinquent juveniles from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Office of Juvenile Services (OJS) to Nebraska’s Office of Probation Administration. Along with that move came $14.5 million to be spent on new services for youth along with a grant program to aid counties focusing on the developing of front-end services for youth. The changes are intended to decrease the dependency on juvenile detention center stays, place more emphasis on rehabilitation, increase family engagement, and provide more services at the community level.

There are several distinct benchmarks for the implementation of several major components of the bill:

July 1, 2013

  • Youth sent to the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers (YRTC) are placed in the care and custody of the OJS with an order of Intensive Supervised Probation.
  • Limitations are set on sending juveniles to secure detention and the YRTCs. Juveniles can only be sent if it is a matter of immediate and urgent need for the protection of the juvenile, protection of others or their property, or if the juvenile is likely to flee jurisdiction.
  • All YRTC commitments will be subject to juvenile court jurisdiction and the reentry process upon discharge from the YRTC.

October 1, 2013

  • OJS authority for new community supervision and evaluations has been eliminated.
  • The DHHS option for status offenders has been eliminated.
  • Probation Administration is responsible for the cost of detention for any juvenile who is post-disposition pending placement, held on a motion to revoke, or on probation at the time of intake.
  • Juvenile evaluations must be completed and returned to the court within 21 days when ordered. OJS evaluations are no longer required and more single-focused evaluations will be the focus.
  • Community and family reentry process is underway for juveniles leaving the YRTCs. The program is being implemented through cooperation between the OJS and Probation Administration. Reentry planning begins at intake to the YRTC, and the facility gives the court and probation a 60-day notification of discharge to adequately prepare for discharge.
  • All new dispositions of law violators and status offenders will be placed with Probation for supervision and service delivery including all costs of service and evaluations. There are no more new commitments to DHHS/OJS.
  • The court has the authority to order needed voluntary services with Probation supervision or service delivery for juveniles charged with law violations and/or 3Bs.
No later than April 1, 2014
  • A formal transition process will be implemented and any cases involving law violators or status offenders remaining with DHHS/OJS will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis by Probation and DHHS/OJS, and an individual transition will be created and adopted with court approval.

In addition, the Nebraska Crime Commission added two new positions to oversee the Community Based Aid funding and Diversion services statewide. Community Based Aid replaced the old “County Aid” funding at the Crime Commission and increased funding to $5 million. Applications for this funding were recently submitted to the Crime Commission for review.

Change of this magnitude can be difficult, but system stakeholders statewide have been working collaboratively to provide training, interpretation, development of services and, most importantly, seamless transition of services for youth and their families. As the Legislature moves into this year’s short session, there will be efforts made to help clarify some of the inevitable questions that have arisen with regards to implementation of the reform since July of last year.

Though this process has not been without bumps along the way, the State of Nebraska remains committed to better outcomes for Nebraska youth and safer communities.