Camp for foster families offers time away, support

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Camp for foster families offers time away, support

By Lauren Woods | Aug. 21, 2009 {1070}

Being a foster parent can be incredibly rewarding. It can also be incredibly challenging. It’s the same for children in foster families. There’s no guidebook that guarantees how the experience will go.
The Florida Conference Life Enrichment Center (LEC) and the foster care program at the Florida United Methodist Children’s Home recently teamed up to help make the transition to foster care a little easier for both parents and their children.
The two ministries collaborated this summer on a first-time, half-week retreat for foster families at the LEC in Fruitland Park, Fla., called Open Hearts Gathering. Seven foster families participated.
Jess Schload, the LEC’s director, says the retreat provided an opportunity for families with foster children ages 5-12 to relax and support each other.            
“We tried to relate to all ages, and it was a challenge, but we felt it was important to allow foster parents and children time apart,” Schload said. “Parents were able to share and learn from each other, and children were able to spend time relating to each other.”
Janet Rorem, who works as a foster care licensing counselor at the Children’s Home, said the idea for the retreat developed out of the success of Grandparents Camp, a camp held at the LEC for grandparents and their grandchildren. She said things seemed to fall into place for the foster family retreat shortly after the preliminary planning began.
“God had his hand in helping people connect,” Rorem said, citing one family that attended while in the midst of adjusting to a child moving into foster care on a permanent basis. Through the retreat, Rorem said, they were able to connect with other family members who had already been through the same process.
Ann and Michael Polczynski said the retreat was a positive experience for their family. They attended with their four foster children.
“We had a blast,” Ann Polczynski says. “It was all over a good experience. The kids were singing camp songs for a long time after we got back.”

Leaders at the Life Enrichment Center are looking for ways to continue meeting the needs of families, such as offering the camp for foster families this summer and hopefully again next year. File photo. Photo #09-1293.

Schload said the schedule was similar to that of a traditional Christian camp, complete with the camp songs the Polczynski family loved so much, morning devotions and activities like crafts and swimming.
One difference, however, was time set aside for parents to talk and gain insight from each other and for children to build their own relationships. Parents and children gathered in separate groups for Bible study on the subject of prayer. Trained counselors from the Children’s Home led group and family workshops that focused on relationship building, grief and loss, burnout, calling and spiritual gifts. They were also available for individual counseling throughout the camp.
Twila and Ron Beyer appreciated the time they had to relax. They attended with their adopted daughter, Tatiana, 12, and another child on respite from her foster family. They said they enjoyed the schedule, but would have liked even more time for relaxing.  
“If anything, we felt too busy with activities,” Twila Beyer said. “We’re a busy family, so for us, our favorite part of the retreat was probably the relaxing at night and family time.”
Beyer also said the retreat was more intimate than the usual few-hour meetings for foster families.
The LEC plans to continue the program next year, Schload said, with the possibility of expanding the experience. He said he realized the camp was a success when he saw a child crying because he had to leave.
“It all becomes worth it when you hear some of those kids’ stories,” Schload said. “One of the goals of the LEC is to find needs like that that we can meet. We have a great site for families, and we’re looking for ways to meet needs of families specifically.”

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Woods is an intern with the Florida Conference summer camp ministry and e-Review Florida United Methodist News service.

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