How Camp Reunite Is Helping Children with Incarcerated Parents

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“It makes me feel not so lonely, because every kid here has a mom in jail.”*
“I don’t have to keep it a secret like I do at school.”
“It makes me feel normal.”

These are comments from children who have attended Camp Reunite in Campbellsport, for children ages 7 to 13, whose mothers are incarcerated at nearby Taycheedah Correctional Institution.

During the day, the campers do what most campers do: swim, rock climb, learn archery. In the late afternoon, they are bussed to Taycheedah, where they are reunited with their moms. The moms and kids play games, do arts and crafts and share a meal.

This free, week-long camp has counselors who teach coping skills and resilience training to these vulnerable youngsters. Programs include art therapy, music therapy, comfort dogs, grief support and yoga.

Camp Reunite, supported by grants and donations, is an arm of Camp Hometown Heroes, a camp for kids who have lost a loved one due to military service. Both camps work on the same model of trauma-informed care. “The model recognizes the losses these kids have experienced,” says Andrew Gappa, who co-founded the camp in 2018 with Neil Willenson, Jim Kacmarcik and Kenzie Kacmarcik. “Their parent is not there to do the parenting.”

In the summer of 2019, Camp Reunite expanded to include the Kettle Moraine Correctional Institution for men. In December of 2018, some kids from the summer camp attended Winter Camp over the school holiday break, getting to spend at least a little holiday time with their mom.

Camp Reunite served 40 kids in 2018 and 50 in 2019. “The numbers are small, but the impact is large,” Gappa says. “Camp is a crucial part in anyone’s life, and this camp offers resilience and hope.”


This Story is part of the December issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

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