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Photo courtesy Trips for Kids Denver Metro

Connecting Adopted Children with Culture

Heritage Camps for Adoptive Families

Dana Diedrich of Castle Rock has been taking her kids, Daniel, 13, and Olivia, 12, to family camp weekends since her oldest was just 18 months old. Over the years, they”ve learned about music, created art, cooked food and made great friends.

“It’s a time for us to be able to connect with families that are just like us,” Diedrich says, “and a time for my kids to feel like the majority.”

Daniel and Olivia were adopted from Korea, so the Diedrich family attends Korean camp each summer—just one of 11 Heritage Camps for Adoptive Families (HCAF) offered at various urban and mountain Colorado locations. HCAF serves as a post-adoption resource for families with diverse heritages, through authentic, culturally based programming taught by people from the same backgrounds.

With adoption sometimes comes feelings of abandonment and issues with identity. The camps help with this.

“Parents tell me their kids are not telling them anything,” says Pam Sweetser, founder and executive director of HCAF. “It’s hard for (a child) to say, ‘I don’t like the fact that I’m black and you’re white”. Often they can’t put it into words, and camp makes it so much easier to deal with. (After camp) parents say, ‘Now I can’t get them to stop talking”.”

Now in it’s25th year, some children who attended HCAF are young adults, and parents are seeing the impact the camps have had. Sweetser recalls one girl who never seemed to enjoy camp as a little girl. “She wasn’t quite connected,” Sweetser says. “Now she is a senior in high school, and wrote her college essay about how camp made a difference in her life. She realizes that as she is leaving home, how good she feels about being Chinese in the world.”

Sweetser’s own 29-year-old adopted daughter now teaches English in Korea. “I don’t think (my daughter) would have had the comfort level to go to Korea if she didn’t have the background she had (at camp),” Sweetser says. Her daughter shared that when she was first living in Korea, her roommate was going through a lot of identity issues as an adult. “(My daughter) said, ‘I’m so glad I’m not going through this now”. A lot of the issues her roommate was having, she”d gone through in junior high.”

Diedrich’s children have not experienced negative feelings about adoption, but they love camp for the friendships they have made, and love reconnecting year after year. Though Diedrich says she doesn’t think her kids get the full impact of learning about their culture just yet, ‘they are comfortable in their own skin and understand why they are here.”

How Families Can Help: People who have a connection to any of the heritages served can be used as volunteers in a variety of ways. Only experts directly from the cultures served are used to teach workshops. See “Help HCAF” on the website for more volunteer details.

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