Five-year-old Blaine Rogers is smiling ear to ear as he lowers his fishing pole into the water at Smith Mountain Lake. He’s hoping for a big fish, and his parents are just hoping that smile is part of a memory that lasts forever.
Blaine is one of many kids attending DePaul’s Family Camp at the W. E. Skelton 4-H Education Conference Center at Smith Mountain Lake. The camp is a retreat extended to families that have recently adopted children or are in the process of adopting, foster families, and kinship families. With support from the Virginia Department of Social Services and NewFound Families, the three-day camp provides a relaxing setting where parents and children can strengthen their bond as a new family while also making connections with others who are in the same situation.
Blaine and his parents, Sara and Shawn, are attending the camp for the second year in a row. And this year, Sara and Shawn have an extra camper: their 2-year-old foster son. The Rogers are hoping to make him a permanent member of their family in the coming months. For the Rogers family, the camp is a chance to get away and have some fun, but also a chance to learn and feel supported. The Rogers count on that support because not only do they have their adopted son, Blaine, and their soon-to-be-adopted son in their care, but they are also fostering an 8-month-old baby girl. On top of that, they both have children from previous relationships. They say the support from camps like this makes the journey a little easier—a fostering journey that began about four years ago and has led them to welcoming nine foster children into their home.
“We both feel led to do it,” Sara said. “We just want to help the kids.”
When Blaine found his way to them, he had food, medical, and attachment issues. “He came from a low point and we changed his life,” said Shawn, fighting back tears.
The Rogers family says the unwavering support from DePaul and from their families are what keep them in the fight to change children’s lives. When you open your home to children in need, it’s easy to feel alone. As Sara puts it, not everyone on the street knows what it feels like to go through the foster and adoption process—to let go of kid after kid, and to adopt a child knowing the heartbreaking past that led them to you. They find it rewarding, but understandably difficult. “You get attached and you love them as your own, and then they have to leave,” said Sara.
That loneliness is something the family camp works to erase. The goal of the camp is to offer a positive, therapeutic experience that encourages deeper connections and enhances the stability of newly formed families. During the camp, there are opportunities for quality family time, parent training, parent respite, and children’s activities. In addition to encouraging bonding between children and parents, adoptive families are also able to connect with one another and form relationships with other families who can relate to their experiences. Families pay nothing to attend—and that is where the generosity of the community comes in. The hope is to grow the camps and welcome more families, but that cannot be done without financial support.
Sometimes it’s hard to picture the child or family on the receiving end of your generous donation. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine the circumstances your donation could be changing. The Rogers family is just one picture of what DePaul and your donation can do.
Watching the family hold tightly to each other as the kids scream “cheese” for the camera.
Watching two brothers run and play with no sense of the difficult backgrounds they came from.
Watching the smile on Blaine’s face grow as he lowers that same fishing pole back in the water, taking a chance without fear because he knows his family is just behind him on the shore.