So what is REECA? It stands for Russia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Basically, it’s long hand for former Soviet states. It’s part of the Heritage Camps for Adoptive Families (HCAF), an organization we heard about through some friends of ours. REECA runs an annual camp at the Snow Mountain Ranch YMCA camp outside of Fraser. It’s a nation-wide organization, right in our backyard. How could we resist?
It’s really centered around older kids, as a way to give them some exposure to their native culture. Three and four year olds generally don’t give a rip, but we thought we might as well start the boys off young. We’re glad we did. I think it was a good experience for them. Meeting other children from similar backgrounds, and having a chance to learn about Russian art, music, foods, and customs, but mostly just playing around with the other kids.
Evan clearly got the most out of it. He remembers that he is from Russia, and asks us about it often. He seemed to relish being surrounded by other Russian kids. Alex is just a touch on the young side to really grasp what was going on. He was also the youngest in his group, so he was having a hard time keeping up with the other kids during games.
We would turn the boys over to their counselors each morning around 9:00. They had various rotations of games, cooking, crafts, stories, etc., of roughly an hour each. We met for lunch at noon, let them go back with their groups from 1:00 to 4:00, then we had some family time before the evening activities. Friday night was roller skating. Both boys insisted on giving it a whirl. They didn’t exactly master it, but they had a great time trying. Saturday night was a “carnival”. It was basically a bunch of little games like bean bag toss, musical chairs, and the like. The kids could win tickets at the games and turn them in for prizes. The hole thing was a little overwhelming for the boys, and they asked us to leave after about 45 minutes.
Lara and I got some good experience out of it as well. First off, we actually had some quiet time to ourselves. On Friday, we had about 2 hours in the morning with absolutely nothing to do. It actually took us a while to get over the uncomfortable feeling of not having any commitments, but then we soaked up every minute. In the afternoon we went to a lecture on attachment issues. It was given by a woman who is a clinical psychologist. She gave a fascinating look into the chemistry of the brain, and the impact that being abandoned and institutionalized has on a child’s development. Of course it’s intuitive, and we’d heard it all before, but from an emotional perspective. This was very much a technical discussion, and really drove home how much work would be involved in helping these kids overcome their past.
We also “volunteered” to help various activities (all parents get volunteered). We each had three assignments for an hour a piece that basically involved helping a given teacher or presenter shepherd a group of kids through a session. We were both pretty uncomfortable at first, but after a few minutes we were enjoying ourselves right along with the kids. We’ve decided we’re going to make this an annual event, and that we’re going to try to help expand the attendance a bit ourselves. We’ve met several families that adopted from Russia through our agency. None of them were at the camp. It looks like we’re going to become recruiters!