By Noah Nelson
Kindred Matters, a caring non-profit organization based out of Salem, Oregon, has a mission “to support positive family relationships even in the absence of a traditional family environment,” said Executive Director Elizabeth Parker.
Parker has dedicated 15 years of her life to this program, ever since she first attended a Kindred Matters summer camp, called Camp To Belong, when she was a teenager. Since then, she volunteered her way to the top and is now the first permanent employee in the program. Parker now works to connect families that may have otherwise remained lost to each other.
Although the camps and other programs are based in Oregon, they often attract foster kids and families from other states, like Washington, Idaho, California, Colorado, and Alaska.
What began as single-day events in the 90s to connect foster care siblings has blossomed into an array of programs, all designed to strengthen the family unit. Outside of Camp To Belong, Kindred Matters also hosts KINnect Events, which are year round events that help families maintain a strong connection, no matter where the foster care system takes them. In 2013, they launched the Family Camp Program, which helps foster parents receive their continuing education credits to maintain their foster parenting certification.
“The unintended effect of this program was that the primary takeaway was not the childcare they received or the continuing education credits, but the real sense of community that can only be created among a group of people who understand each other’s journey,” Parker said.
This sense of community and belonging is a common theme among Parker’s work. She also tries to create an environment where kids can just be kids, and forget about their worries.
“They don’t have to explain what it means to be a youth in care, or why they don’t live with their siblings, or why they only see their parents once a week. The kids who come to camp get to come without labels like ‘foster’, ‘adopted’, ‘troubled’ or any of the other descriptors they get slapped with in the real world,” Parker said. “They get to just be kids spending time with their brothers and sisters.”
In all of these efforts, Parker emphasized that their work is based on research that proves how beneficial programs like Kindred Matters can be.
“Research has demonstrated time and time again that youth with strong connections to family (whether it be biological, foster, friends that are like family, etc…) are much more successful as they age out of the system and enter adulthood,” said Parker. “We aim to support those connections with our work, and therefore create better outcomes for kids whose life circumstances are out of their own control.”
At the end of the day, Kindred Matters and all of their associated programs and camps are based around the idea of connection. Connecting foster kids and young adults to their siblings makes them that much more likely to become happy, fulfilled, and successful adults with a family network that they can rely on if they need to. This network helps keep the individuals that age out of the child welfare system from becoming homeless, unemployed, or incarcerated.
Despite living in a divided time, I think we can all agree that decreasing homelessness, unemployment, and incarceration rates is a noble cause. Parker and all of her volunteers work hard, sacrificing their own time to better their communities.
One of these volunteers is Cascade Sotheby’s International Realty Broker Diane Flansburg. Flansburg began her journey into this system as a member of the Lincoln County Citizen Review Board for 9 years, where she was eventually asked to join the newly formed Kindred Matters program.
“At our monthly board meetings, we reviewed cases of children in foster care in our county, to ensure services and resources were being provided in a timely manner to the family and, in particular, the children in foster care. During these nine years, I became familiar with Camp To Belong and the work they do,” said Flansburg. “I was honored to have been asked to join their program.”
Flansburg and volunteers like her work tirelessly to plan and run events and activities like birthday parties, summer camps, water sports, art classes, and so much more. All of these events give foster kids the chance to be kids again, without having to worry about issues outside of their own control. If even just for a moment, Flansburg and other volunteers allow these kids to let their guard down and form relationships with their siblings that will benefit them throughout the rest of their lives.
Kindred Matters is always looking for more volunteers to help the dreams of foster kids come true. Along with PR opportunities and fundraising, Parker explained that even just spreading the word about how severe sibling separation is in Oregon would make a huge difference. She stated that Oregon is in dire need of more foster care homes.
Parker explained plain and simple that siblings deserve the opportunity to have a relationship.
“I don’t think there are many adults that would disagree with the assertion that their siblings were very important in shaping them into who they are today,” she said.
By getting involved with Kindred Matters, you can help your community, lift people out of poverty, prevent homelessness, and even prevent future incarcerations. You can do all this and more by simply being there to help out children in need.
To get involved with Kindred Matters, click here to visit their website. Follow their “Get Involved” tab to find out how to volunteer or contribute in another way.