The Youth Leadership Program (YLP) was started five years ago as a response to our older youth’s desire to become peer role models to campers. These teens and young adults saw a unique opportunity to share their common experience of being separated from their siblings in the foster care system with the younger youth. The power of engaging and encouraging these youth to become “Counselors in Training” (CITs) quickly became apparent.
Our YLPs provide Camp To Belong (CTB) campers with a sense of compassion, understanding, and excitement that only they are able to offer. They connect with campers through their shared experience and serve as important and unique role models. Our goal is that YLP participants also develop communication and leadership skills that will help them in their professional and personal life.
The Youth Leadership Program provides a space for these young people to reflect upon their time in foster care with peers who share similar experiences. We encourage YLPs to use their past experiences as a way to gain advocacy skills in order to influence the system.
Participants in YLP will be able to:
YLPs are assigned to a family group (a group of 15 siblings and 5+ volunteer counselors). YLPs will practice counselor in training skills with the support of their assigned YLP counselor and family group counselors.
Leaders arrive by bus with Camp To Belong MA campers. Bus stops are located in Springfield, Chicopee, and Reading.
Being a part of “The Crew” for one week will impact the way you think about your self and your qualities as a person in your own community. You will get the opportunity to serve as a peer role model to other youth who have or are experiencing foster care. You will spend your mornings engaged in team building activities with fellow crew campers and counselors, which could range from discussing and identifying your strengths to challenging yourself by walking across a high ropes course. After lunch you will serve in your area of placement (counselor in-training, horse team, arts and crafts, etc.) that you and your counselor identify based on your likes and strengths. Then you will rejoin “The Crew” and spend your evenings participating in fun Camp To Belong evening activities. And finally you will end your evenings hanging out at the Canteen, a place that is your space, enjoying snacks, music, and free time.
Sibling Connections developed our youth program with the help of HEROES, a program of the Treehouse Foundation in order to provide the highest quality leadership curriculum for our youth. We are very excited about this partnership. We would also like to recognize Rise Above and their commitment to our youth. Rise Above provides “rock star” experiences such as fine dining and amazing guest speakers for our youth to ensure that every youth in care feels like a “normal” child.
“My skills have improved so much since I started growing with Sibling Connections. Sibling connections is a big part of my life . They’ve been there for me through my best life accomplishments and also been there when times are rough . Even if it’s just to look for advice . Every year I look forward to seeing the same faces , even new ones . Everyone there is not only very supportive but also loving, caring and most of all comforting. Like I’ve never felt so at home.” –Josh, former CTB camper and current YLP leader
“The YLP program is an amazing experience. You learn lots of wonderful different skills that you can use both inside and outside the program. I love everyone that I met at camp. Everyone is so nice and understanding. You won’t regret coming! –Yami, YLP participant, 2013
Chris Langelier has been the coordinator for the HEROES Leadership Project for three years and a volunteer for Sibling Connections at Camp to Belong Massachusetts for 7 years. Chris is a strong advocate for the power of youth and firmly believes that youth should be considered valuable resources to their peers and their communities. He is so excited to partner with Sibling Connections to offer an exceptional leadership experience for older teens and young adults who wish to help their peers still being impacted by foster care. He is often known for saying, “There is so much potential for greatness within our youth, we only have to give them the opportunities to show us how talented they truly are.” In his spare time Chris enjoys camping, hiking and many other outdoor adventure pursuits, along with spending time with his highly energized three-year-old twin nephews.