The “I Grew Up In Elkhart” Facebook group is reconnecting families.
The group started as a posting board for “remember when” stories but now is blossoming into a means of reconnection. And it happened to be exactly the atlas that Andrew Campbell needed to find his father.
The idea took flight when Campbell heard that the group was a popular site for Elkhart Memorial High School alumni. His disconnected father once attended Memorial, so Campbell posted a plea for help, including his father’s name and the little information he knew.
Campbell’s cousin got wind of his search from the post and father and son connected once Campbell’s father knew his son was seeking him out.
Without the Facebook page, it’s possible that they never would have found each other. Instead, the two met for the first time on June 30.
Campbell’s story is not unique when it comes to reconnecting lost loved ones.
Justin Hardesty was given up for adoption at birth and recently decided to seek out his birth family after his adopted parents both passed away.
“It was time to complete me,” Hardesty said. “It was about finding the missing link in my life.”
Hardesty heard from a friend that localized social media groups might be a good tool for reconnecting. Hardesty grew up in Goshen and knew his biological family was from Elkhart County, so he took up his friend’s advice. He posted his picture and birth information on the “I Grew Up in Elkhart” group, the “OxBow Firetower” page and the Elkhart Co. 4-H Fair page.
By coincidence, Hardesty’s biological grandmother passed away minutes after he posted the image to each site. He later found out that she coordinated his adoption — and when Hardesty’s biological family was going through her things, they found his adoption paperwork.
Serendipitously, a friend of the family happened to see Hardesty’s posting on Facebook and showed it to Hardesty’s aunt. She looked it over and thought he looked like her father. His aunt then reached out to him, saying that the birth records found in his grandmother’s house matched the ones he posted with his picture.
The weekend after Memorial Day, Hardesty traveled down from his home in Chicago to meet his biological family. He has been introduced to plenty of family members since.
The group creators didn't anticipate this kind of response.
Cheryl Laughlin Thompson, who currently lives in Virginia and wanted a way to reconnect with old friends, started the group. Julie App Breitling, who is currently an administrator on the group, joined her several months later.
“Part of our initial plan was for us to reconnect with people,” Breitling said with a laugh. She did not realize how many people wanted the same.
The group currently has over 11,000 members.
Breitling recalls between five and seven stories of family members seeking out one another via the page. The group has also been used to reunite pets with owners and encourage local community service.
“People are passionate about helping other people, ” Breitling said. “We went to help people learn how to pay it forward more and make a difference.”