For Bryson and Kason, ages 10 and 11, a week at summer camp was a literal dream come true.

“It was a week of cabins and color wars and, most importantly, a week to be unfettered by their burdens and challenges,” said Ashley, the boy’s court-appointed special advocate (CASA). “They got to be just kids, and they still talk about it a year later. That week had a huge impact on them.”

Life at home with their mother Martha and two toddler sisters was chaotic. Their mother was in a violent relationship and she’d been using illegal drugs to cope. The children, particularly Bryson and Kason, suffered from neglect until Child Protective Services became involved.

While foster care with their aunt calmed the chaos and brought structure to the boy’s lives, the kids missed being home with their mom. They talked about times before she used drugs and fought with her boyfriend with longing and nostalgia. They wanted to return home.
Their aunt, with her four nieces and nephews living with her, needed a break, so Ashley helped find a local summer camp that could give her a chance to recharge. She found an overnight YMCA that could take both boys. They jumped at the opportunity.

“They loved and respected their aunt, and she did an amazing job plugging them into the local community and her church,” said Ashley. “The boys wanted to go to camp, but we also wanted their aunt to have a minute to breathe. It was a win-win.”

Bryson and Kason, energetic and active, are just one year apart. The camp welcomed them, placing them in the same cabin for familiarity. They warmed up within hours and fully embraced the week at camp.

Meanwhile, the boys mother Martha was home handling her own challenges. She completed drug treatment and tested negative for illegal drugs, but she needed to handle her toxic relationship next. Ashley said the boys’ mom was motivated and focused from the start.

“It took a lot of strength and courage and willpower for her to end the relationship,” Ashley said. “But in the end, she knew the relationship wasn’t good for her or the kids and she ended it.”

The boys returned from summer camp bubbling over with stories of their time away, swimming, making new friends and enjoying the outdoors. A few weeks later, they were able to reunify with their mother and return home.

Ashley, working her fourth case since 2017, said the case was a good reminder of what goes right in child welfare. “The system is so busy, but CASA can come in, create relationships and advocate for the children’s needs in ways other parties can’t because there’s so much going on.”

While the boys’ case is now closed, Ashley did help the family reach out to the summer camp again. Staff remembered the boys and their joy and offered them a scholarship to attend again this summer.