The Heritage Camp experience has historically contributed to adopted children’s’ positive sense of self
by creating opportunities for them to interact with community members from their birth culture during camp and offering programming that enhances their identity including HeART Talks™, and More Than Me™.
The This is Me™ program at Heritage Camps for Adoptive Families, is a unique set of activities developed for high school teens that seek to assist each of them in development of a positive bicultural identity. The need to establish a bicultural identity emerges most strongly for adopted youth during adolescence and young adulthood. This sense of self or “identity” is multi-faceted and very personal for each one of them. It is not simple, but beautifully complex, having both pieces of their birth culture and experiences of themselves often living in homes and communities that are not of their same culture or race.
In November of 2009, the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute published a groundbreaking study titled, “Beyond Culture Camp: Promoting Healthy Identity formation in Adoption.” Several recommendations from this report are worth noting by parents, counselors and educators, but we agree with that there is a need for not only strategies that promote cultural socialization, but experiences that give adoptees additional support on “racial and cultural identification, and comfort” (p. 8).
Pam Sweetser, HCAF Executive Director, has found through her many years of experience with internationally adopted children, and as a parent of young adult adoptees herself, it is common for them to continue to struggle with issues around identity, even as they move into young adulthood. Adoptees have told her that they feel different: not like the people they have met from their birth country, and not like people they know who were born in the United States. Pam believes that our task as parents and educators is to help them explore how they are uniquely from two cultures: an identity that needs to be defined by each of them in the context of support from other adoptees, parents, and loved ones during their Heritage Camp experience.
When Pam shared this opinion and these findings with our Cultural Advisory Board, one of its members, Fran Campbell of the Filipino-American community, took action. She used her expertise in working with adolescents and young adults in various professional settings to develop our trademark This is Me™ program for our high school campers. At each camp, members of the appropriate cultural community lead these workshops with Fran at the helm, to ask and answer culturally specific questions, find out what makes a culture what it is, talk about how and where our adoptees can fit in, and role play situations they may encounter as they leave the relative safety of home and community to go to college, or into the work environment, etc.
This is Me™ has been a valuable way for our cultural community members to interact with the high school campers that is honest and meaningful, sharing their own experiences growing up in another culture and trying to fit in. There are many similarities that have nothing to do with being adopted, but simply with being of another race or culture than the majority. The positive outcomes of this program have proven to be many, mostly by giving the high school campers the tools to find ways to truly belong to their cultural communities if they so choose.
Heritage Camps for Adoptive Families, Inc.
c/o Pam Sweetser Executive Director 2052 Elm Street Denver, Colorado 80207 Email Us or call 303.320.4234