Stantec's Aleece D'Onofrio Aleece has had an overwhelmingly positive experience as a role model and mentor for the Sibling Connections groups
Being raised in the foster system can be a tough way to grow up. In the States, there are approximately 400,000 youth in and out of the foster system, with roughly 70% having been separated from their siblings. However, at Sibling Connections, they’ve designed an organization that helps strengthen the sibling bond of children separated by foster care. Starting in 2004, the Sibling Connections mission is to provide support to these separated siblings through innovative programs and practices. Once a month, they offer one-day reunion opportunities through their Sibling Sunday programs.
Sibling Connections has a sister organization called Camp to Belong. This camp focuses on reuniting brothers and sisters who have been separated in foster care through an overnight, week-long summer camp in mid-to-late August, right before school starts. Camp to Belong strives to let kids be kids and not worry about daily life struggles.
Nicholas Bouthilette, a senior civil engineer out of the Burlington, Massachusetts, office, has been a volunteer counselor at Camp to Belong since 2007. “My mother is a semi-retired adoption worker for the state of Massachusetts, and in 2005, she co-founded the Massachusetts chapter of Camp to Belong,” Nicholas said. “It’s now an international organization, with 11 chapters in the States and in Australia.”
“I’m very lucky to have three siblings that I’m close with well into our adult years, so I understand the importance in that,” Nicholas continued. “For the vast majority of the kids at Camp to Belong, this week-long summer camp is their Christmas. They move from foster home to foster home with a backpack of their belongings and have blood relatives that they rarely see. So, I’ve seen it time and time again over the past 12 years how important this is to them. Every sibling, every activity, it’s clear to me how significant and impactful this organization is.”
In 2012, Nicholas enlisted his colleague Aleece D’Onofrio, associate, to volunteer. “These children are, unfortunately, in these situations because of the choices someone else made, and it can make them feel isolated,” Aleece said. “Giving them a chance to maintain a positive meaningful relationship—and being around other children in the same situation—helps them feel a sense of normalcy and make them feel not so different.”
Aleece has had an overwhelmingly positive experience as a role model and mentor for these sibling groups. “I thought it was an awesome cause and really wanted to contribute. My involvement over the past seven years also includes being a chaperone, leading major fundraising efforts to support the programming, and being a counselor.”
The camp itself is fully funded by grants, fundraisers, and donations. With one hundred kids being sent to camp every year, every penny counts. “It costs $500 to send a kid to camp for the week, and in that week, I’ve seen the experience change their lives. That money can completely change the trajectory of a kid’s life by reconnecting with a sibling,” Nicholas said. “Not only is this extremely beneficial for the siblings, it’s personally rewarding for the volunteers as well.”
Like in most volunteer initiatives, Nicholas and Aleece, along with the other volunteers at Camp to Belong and Sibling Connections, have made many friends and allies through the organization. “Volunteer work is a beautiful thing. People trying to help people, getting out of your comfort zone. Not only have the kids benefited, but we have too,” said Nicholas.