STIRLING, NJ — For one week each year, a camp for children adopted from Korea gives kids and their parents a chance to come together and embrace the childrens’ Korean roots.

Camp Friendship was founded in 1984 by parents of Korean-born adopted children to provide their kids the opportunity to experience their native culture and traditions. The five-day camp is held every year at the Shrine of St. Joseph in Stirling. There are about 130 campers coming from all across the East Coast.

Last week, local kids were among those attending Camp Friendship and working as volunteers.

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Alexandria Hudak, a rising senior at Scotch-Plains Fanwood High School, has been attending Camp Friendship for 13 years, since kindergarden. Hudak, who was adopted from South Korea, began working at the camp as a volunteer her freshmen year of high school.

“My experience at Camp Friendship have influenced who I am today by assisting me in understanding myself and accepting my culture,” Hudak said. “Being adopted is something unique that before camp, I had zero understanding of. Today, Camp Friendship has helped me embrace my uniqueness and culture.”

“This camp is just very different and very special,” said Marty Wiaczek, a recent Westfield High School graduate who has been attending, and then volunteering at, the camp since second grade. “I think that if your child is adopted from Korea, bringing them to this would be very beneficial, and the kids would have a lot of fun.”

Some of the Korean cultural activities and classes at Camp Friendship include dancing, Tae Kwon Do, folklore, music, language, cooking and drumming.

“I like cooking Korean food at Camp Friendship because it tastes spicy,” said Jae Kayne, a camper from Fanwood who is going into third grade. “The people at Camp Friendship are nice and friendly. I met some teen friends there, too.”

Teachers and volunteers are all members of the Korean-American community.

Sarah Cassidy, a recent graduate of Cranford High School, was a camper for seven years and a volunteer for the past four.

“Most of the campers come from suburban towns they don’t have much exposure to Korean culture at home,” Cassidy said. “I’ve loved coming to camp ever since I came in second grade. I am a Korean adoptee and since I’m from Cranford, I’m not around other Koreans or adoptees that often.”

Cassidy’s experience at Camp Friendship inspired her to learn more about adoption. Two years ago for her Girl Scout Gold Award project, she hosted a discussion panel of Korean adult adoptees to speak to the campers. When it came time to write her senior research paper at CHS, Cassidy decided to focus on studying international adoption. This fall, she will be majoring in social work at the University of South Carolina, with the goal to one day work in an adoption agency.

“Without Camp Friendship I might never had explored my culture as much or been as interested in adoption,” Cassidy said. “It helped me realize that even though a Korean adoptee in Cranford might be a rarity, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Camp Friendship has been an amazing part of my life the past 11 years and I hope it continues for years to come.”

“The community at Camp Friendship is very tightly knit,” Hudak said. “I see many familiar faces every summer, which is very welcoming. Everyone at camp knows each other and looks forward to seeing each other every year.”

At the end of the week, there was a Korean feast, and the campers performed traditional dance and drums for their parents.

The next Camp Friendship session will be held from July 17 to July 21, 2017. To learn more, click here.