Finding Friendship and Culture at Heritage Camp

Families for International Children was established over 30 years ago.  It is a non-profit support group for families who have adopted internationally or trans-ethically.  The majority of families who are involved with the organization are from Michigan. Lowell resident Sarah Thompson has found this group to be a great resource for her daughters who were adopted from Ethiopia eight years ago.  Thompson helps with the group’s Heritage Camp, which is scheduled for June 18-21.

The Lowell Connection
Heritage Camp takes place in Grand Rapids, but all families who have adopted internationally or trans-ethically are welcome.  Declining numbers of children being adopted internationally has caused the number of campers each year to decrease, however those involved feel it’s important to keep the camp going for those who continue to attend.  The camp is organization’s biggest support activity for the families they serve.

Thompson is the coordinator for the Ethiopian portion of the camp and is hoping to reach more families in Lowell who may not know the camp exists.  “I strongly believe in what this camp has to offer – community, knowledge, and friendship for those who have a similar story.” she says of the importance of the experience for her and her children.  The four-day camp is divided by age groups and then further into countries where the majority of participants were adopted from, with one section representing those who do not fall into one of the major countries represented.  

Bushnell Elementary School kindergarten teacher Cathy Wood also has experience with Heritage Camp.  She and her husband adopted their daughter Amy from China when she was 10 months old. Now, in her early 20s, Amy looks back fondly at her time at camp.  She even used her experience at camp for her college entrance essay. Cathy was involved in Heritage Camp in some capacity for nearly 20 years including China camp and Global camp coordinator and co-director of the program.  She ‘retired’ in 2017 after making many life-long friends with adults involved in the program. “Parents also bond at Heritage Camp; just like the campers, we all had similar stories, and it was nice to have others with whom to share.” she says.  It’s just as important for parents who have adopted children internationally or inter-ethnically to meet and interact. “We discussed all topics, including the racism our children encountered, and may continue to encounter. Being an interracial family puts you in a different category, and sometimes you just need to talk to a friend.”

Amharic writing.

Camp Activities
The four-day camp will run this year Tuesday, June 18 through Friday, June 21 at Kellogsville East Elementary from 9am-2pm each day.  Registration is $120/student for those preK-6th grade and $170/student for 7th/8th graders. Grades are determined by what grade a student will start in the fall.  The camp is for adoptees and their siblings, although close family members are also welcomed. Registration includes a camp shirt, lunch each day, and most classroom materials, and activities throughout the week.

Those who have participated in Heritage Camp in the past are usually eager to return.  Friendships are formed and a sense of family is created. While each student and his or her family has a different story, the thread of adoption bonds them together.  

Camp is run completely by volunteers consisting of parents, grandparents, and even campers who age out of the program but return to teach younger students.  Hallways and classrooms are decorated for specific camp themes – Ethiopia, China, Korea, Latin America, Eurasia, and global for all other countries represented.  According to Thompson, general camp activities include Opening and Closing ceremonies on Tuesday and Friday afternoon, Parade of Nations on Friday afternoon with optional traditional outfits, music classes with songs from home countries, cooking classes with treats and snacks from home countries, assemblies with an international focus (examples include Chinese Lion Dancers, Korean Drummers, Russian Story Tellers, and African Dancers) internationally inspired lunches and snacks each day followed by or preceded by recess, and an internationally focused field day.

Individual camps focus activities on learning about the history and culture of the country represented.  Thompson is already planning lessons and activities on Amharic writing and speaking, traditional storytelling, art projects, and learning about Ethiopian holidays for the camp she will coordinate.

“My girls have attended several different summer camps and this one is by far their favorite.  It isn’t because it is the fanciest or has the best water slide, but it is because it means the most to them.” says Thompson.  Her children started camp when they were in 2nd and 4th grade and she regrets not introducing the camp earlier. “They look forward to this camp every year and I really hope other families will be able to join in the experience.”  Heritage Camp aims at honoring the various cultures represented by those who attend.

The Details

Registration for Heritage camp is currently open, but will close at the end of March.  Late registrations may be accepted depending upon enrollment and availability of volunteers for an additional charge of $50/student.  

What: Heritage Camp
Who: Camp is for students entering PreK-9th grade in the fall who have been adopted internationally or inter-ethnically and their siblings
When: Tuesday, June 18 – Friday, June 2
Where: Kellogsville East Elementary School
Deadline: Registration must be completed by March 31
Online Registration:

Photos courtesy of Families for International Children and used with permission.

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