“I laughed, I cried, I got bit,” said Copper Bales.
Bales and his girlfriend, Stacie Aman, are volunteers at Camp Connect, a San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency program that gives brothers and sisters separated in foster care a chance to reconnect through fun activities like Chargers games, laser tag and sailing.
The highlight of the program is a four-day camp held annually in Julian. It’s a camp that can be full of surprises – like the occasional innocuous bite of a child.
“It just really touched my heart,” said Aman, of the experience. “It’s really just about the kids wanting to be with their siblings and they appreciate the opportunity.”
To hear the couple talk about the camp is no different that listening to parents talk about family memories from outdoor vacations. Stories about activities, camp food, a talent show and a biting incident – that provided a valuable lesson and touching moment – abound.
The incident started when a young camper became upset and decided to chomp down on Bales’ forearm. The bite turned out to be harmless, but the effect was a heart-felt moment of growth for the youngster.
“We slept that night in a star pattern on the floor because they got a little scared when I told them ghost stories,” said Bales. “But in the morning, first thing when he woke up, the boy that bit me turned his head to me and said ‘I’m sorry for biting you.’”
To volunteer with Camp Connect, contact Stefanie Trolinger via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (858) 278-4400. Camp Connect volunteers put in a total of 5,120 hours of service to our foster youth from July 2011-June 2012.
“That’s so sweet,” said Aman. “And totally from the heart.”
Aman started volunteering with foster youth after her own daughter left for college about two years ago and empty nest syndrome set in.
“I had a lot of downtime,” she said. “I could get out and volunteer and I missed interaction with kids.”
She had tried to get involved with several volunteer opportunities, but many of them were slow to get back to her. Then she came across Camp Connect.
Shortly after, she began dating Bales, who was also looking for a way to give back to the community. She, in turn, got him involved and the two started volunteering at the camp together.
“I bullied him,” Aman joked.
“I was trying to impress her,” Bales countered.
Either way, their two-year relationship has involved plenty of volunteering with foster youth and the thought of possibly adopting in the future.
“We’re looking at it as a possibility in the future,” said Bales. “We have really enjoyed the process of getting to know the kids and it’s in the back of our minds.
“Volunteering with the kids is so enjoyable and rewarding,” he added.
The foster youth aren’t the only ones that benefit.
Bales said the experience has changed his outlook on life. He’s happier.
“I highly recommend it, if nothing else for your own satisfaction,” said Bales. “It’s been a life changer.”
This year’s Camp Connect starts on August 2, and Bales and Aman are already looking forward to it.
“It’s just so incredibly organized,” said Aman. “As a volunteer, you just get to come in and have fun with the kids.”
“I have grown as a human being because of the whole experience and especially the camp,” said Bales. “I think I learned more than the kids.”