Growing Up is Hard – But You Can Make it Less Lonely 

You can’t be a growing human without experiencing some amount of pain, discomfort and suffering. But the past few years have introduced new challenges to being a kid: Pandemic isolation, climate fears, political instability, and constant availability of tech tools designed to hijack our brain chemistry to maximize use. Just to name a few. 

Girl smiling with background of flowers and texture paper.

In 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association banded together to declare a national emergency in adolescent mental health: “We are caring for young people with soaring rates of depression, anxiety, trauma, loneliness, and suicidality that will have lasting impacts on them, their families, and their communities,” they wrote.     

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood diagnoses of anxiety and depression have been increasing. Nine percent of American kids have been diagnosed with anxiety; four percent have been diagnosed with depression. As children grow into their teen years, those rates get higher: More than a third of teens say that they’ve had persistent sad or hopeless feelings, and 19 percent had considered attempting suicide.1 

Unfortunately, those rates increase again if young people’s identities are marginalized. 42 percent of LGBTQ2S+ youth have considered attempting suicide, for example. Rates of depression are highest among youth who identify as having more than one race.  

What can you do to help?  

Long-term, you can connect with and invest in a positive youth development organization, like Camp Fire, or The Trevor Project, or On Our Sleeves

But this month, you can take action by participating in Absolutely Incredible Kid Day®. Join millions of people on Thursday, March 16, 2023 and tell a young person why they matter and what makes them amazing.  

(Fun fact: it’s also Camp Fire’s 113th birthday!) 

Why? Your words are powerful and can change a young person’s life. Whether you write, call, text or send a video, it can make an immediate impact. What do the young people in your life need to hear?  

Visit our #KidDay page to get tips, ideas and tools.  

Growing up is hard, and those statistics definitely paint a concerning picture. But we know what else makes a difference in the lives of young people: In addition to professional treatment, there are other interventions that can help foster better mental health, including: 

Boy smiling with background of flowers and texture paper.
  • Developmental relationships with positive adults lead to young people with stronger social-emotional skills. They take more personal responsibility and less risks. But more than 1 in 5 middle and high school students report they don’t have any developmental relationships. Access to positive youth development programs, where young people can get support from trained adults, is limited. Almost 25 million American children don’t have access to an afterschool program, for example.  
  • Being in nature can boost moods, lower anxiety, and deliver a wide variety of mental health benefits. But kids spend a large portion of their days behind screens (6 hours a day for 8 to 10 year olds, 9 hours a day for 11 to 14 year olds, and 7.5 hours a day for 15 to 18 year olds3). Access to nature is often blocked for people of color and low-income communities, thanks to decades of structural racism and classism. This disparity is called The Nature Gap. 74 percent of non-white people live in nature-deprived areas, compared to only 23 percent of white people.4 70 percent of low-income communities live without easy access to green spaces.    

Thanks for caring about young people with us, and connecting them to the outdoors, to others, and to themselves.  

Boy smiling with background of flowers and texture paper.


  1. “Data & Statistics,” Accessed 13 February 2023.  
  2. “What we’re learning about development relationships,” The Search Institute. Accessed 13 February 2023. 
  3. “Screen Time VS Lean Time,” Accessed 13 February 2023. 
  4. “The Nature Gap,” Accessed 13 February 2023.   

Making our website accessible for all

Great news: our website gets a much-needed refresh this month (we will launch mid-Feb, stay tuned)! We haven’t done a major overhaul of our digital home since 2017. But in keeping with our value of inclusion, we wanted to make sure our site was welcoming to all. We made some much-needed web accessibility updates to our online Camp Fire presence. Here’s why…

Image of a laptop with paint and plants surrounding itWhat is web accessibility?

Web accessibility means making sure people of all abilities can access the web. The internet leaps over the barriers many people with disabilities experience in the physical world, but it also creates a few more. Web accessibility considers how people with differing abilities (auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech and visual) interact online. It works to open digital doors, so everyone is included. 

Web accessibility isn’t just the kind, inclusive thing to do. Under the Americans with Disabilities act, web accessibility is the law for businesses with websites. How do we know what is accessible and not? The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) created web accessibility standards that anyone creating online spaces can follow through its W3C Web Accessibility Initiative

How is Camp Fire working toward web accessibility? 

“Beyond just meeting the standards, it’s really about having accessibility and inclusion integrated from the inside out,” says Kerri Voyles, Flourish Creative founder and web accessibility expert. “Is our website clearly guiding users of all different abilities on an understandable journey?”

Kerri has been helping Camp Fire develop an inclusive web strategy and create an accessible framework for its national site. That accessible framework, or theme, can be used by Camp Fire councils for their sites as well. 

“I’ve been partnering with Camp Fire on leveling up the digital presence in an inclusive and authentic way,” Kerri said. “I think it’s really great that they’re investing in this upgrade, and that they’re doing it intentionally and strategically.” 

image of a cellphone surrounded by paint and plantsWhat kinds of things make the web more accessible?

It takes the entire online ecosystem working together to increase web accessibility, including the tools we use to get information online (web browsers, media players, adaptive tech, etc.) and the ways we create and share information online (website software, web development, content creation, etc.). 

What does that actually mean? Here are just a few examples of W3Cs’s web accessibility standards

  • Using text alternatives —like image/icon labels, alt tags, and graphic/illustration descriptions — to increase access for people with different visual abilities.
  • Providing text captions, audio descriptions, or sign language interpretation for multimedia content.
  • Making sure your site can be understood by a variety of assistive technologies (like screen magnifiers and readers, Braille displays, and more).
  • Making content easy to see and hear, including accessible visual contrast, resizable text, adjustable audio, and more. 
  • Ensuring users can navigate your site in different ways, including by keyboard, assistive keyboards, voice recognition, and more. 

What is changing on the Camp Fire national site? 

“On the technical side of things, there was an opportunity for greater organization structurally on the back end, like using headings and alt tags correctly,” Kerri said. “On the front end, we honed in on clarifying and simplifying that journey. As communicators, it’s really about increasing comprehension.” 

Kerri explained that many things can help visitors better understand the information we share online. One is making sure our language is clear and simple: The average U.S. adult reads at a junior-high level. Another is considering visual elements, like color contrast, that affect how people with differing sight and neurological abilities comprehend information. 

The site relaunch changes you might notice (and those on the back end that you won’t) are all in the service of helping more people connect with Camp Fire online. In the coming year, Camp Fire will be helping support our councils’ web accessibility efforts with training and other resources. And we’ll continue to make updates as our web accessibility knowledge grows and new digital tools and spaces emerge. 

“There’s no such thing as perfect accessibility,” Kerri said. “We constantly need to be evolving and adapting. The standards a year from now will not be the standards of today.” 

What can you do to increase web accessibility? 

Even if you’re not a web designer or programmer, Kerri says there are ways you can help increase online access for all: 

  • Be a digital inclusion advocate! Not everyone has the financial resources to own digital devices or pay for reliable internet services. Get involved with organizations that work for digital equity, like The Kansas City Coalition for Digital Inclusion.
  • If you notice a web accessibility roadblock, let the site owner know! “Don’t be afraid to reach out to organizations and provide that feedback loop,” Kerri encouraged.
  • Use simple, clear language when you’re communicating online.

Want to know more about web accessibility? Here are some resources to get you started:

Sharing Power: Learning to Embrace Humility as an Adult in Youth-Led Spaces

Written by Hannah Howard | Evaluation Manager & Staff Advisor to the National Youth Advisory Cabinet | Camp Fire National Headquarters

What does “youth voice” mean to you? When young people apply to be a part of Camp Fire National’s Youth Advisory Cabinet (YAC), this is one of the questions we ask. Last year, their responses centered on two main ideas: adults listening and inciting change. 

Here are some of the things they said youth voice means:

“It means giving younger people a right to have their opinions and ideas heard on a subject that’s typically decided by adults”

“Youth Voice” should just be “Voice”. Each and every person has a voice and deserves to be heard, including youth.”

“To me, youth voice means change. The future is youth, and the opinions expressed now are a indication of how things will be in the near future.” 

“Youth Voice to me is something that can truly impact our future. Our youth [are] standing for so much change in the world so when we grow older and have our own children we bring them into a world we wanted and we made possible.” 

WE HONOR THE POWER OF YOUNG PEOPLEOne of Camp Fire’s eight core values is “We honor the power of young people” because we believe that involving youth in decision making is transformational. 

I can attest to this power through my experience with Camp Fire’s National Youth Advisory Cabinet. We recently reflected on the new updated rewards and recognition items we revealed as part of our #EmblemDrop 2022 as a group. Many of the youth on the cabinet had been involved in redesigning these items, either by participating in Make Your Mark or by offering color, shape, and theme suggestions on mockup designs in early 2022. However, there were some young people who were new to YAC this year. They hadn’t been involved in the process and were confronted with emotions around the new emblem rollout, including fears of old Camp Fire traditions being lost in the process. To say it bluntly, they didn’t like the changes. 

After working for two years on the new rewards and recognition items, it was difficult for me to sit in a youth-centered space and hear their opinions without becoming defensive. It would have been too convenient as an adult to dismiss their thoughts and explain away their worries saying how hard we had worked to gather youth perspectives on this topic. All the best youth development practices I knew in my brain didn’t keep me from feeling my feelings. But, I had to remember, I wasn’t the only person involved. These young people were sharing something very personal, about an organization and about traditions they felt deeply connected to. In a space where we had invited them to share those exact thoughts and feelings. So, I had to sit and listen in that space, even when all I wanted to do was defend. 

photo of young people smiling at camp

This is where youth voice is transformational – when adults listen first. By listening to the youth who hadn’t been a part of the process initially, we were able to grapple with cultural appropriation and camp traditions. Leaning into the Search Institutes’ framework around sharing power and providing support, we did some learning together, and then identified different ways they could take on a leadership role in talking about recognition items with their peers, through a more grounded understanding of the complex issues at play. We took time to meet with one of the youth outside of our monthly YAC meetings to develop a plan of action for them to talk to their council’s leadership about the rollout of the new emblems and empowered them to think about how they would like other youth to be involved in that process locally. This is the potential of youth voice – ideas, creativity, and enthusiasm. I had to learn that even by checking the right boxes, and including young people right from the beginning of the rewards and recognition process, there was more work to be done.

photo of young people smiling togetherAt the intersection of structured spaces for youth reflection, and adults who are trying their best to listen, true transformation can take place. Ideas go farther. 

Although there are many resources (some shared below) to implement youth voice, it happens best when adults like you and me give youth structured spaces to discuss things that are meaningful to them. Best said by a member of our Youth Advisory Cabinet: 

“Youth voice means young people giving their take on issues that impact them. It’s as simple as that.” 

How can you incorporate youth voice into what you do? How can you listen to young people? How can youth voice be a part of transformational leadership in your job, company or organization?  

Resources for Supporting Youth Voice 


Camp Fire Names Two New Members to the National Board of Trustees to Kick Off 2023

KANSAS CITY, MO (Jan. 9, 2023)National inclusive youth development organization Camp Fire, is proud to announce that it has added two new members to its National Board of Trustees: U.S. Air Force Hydraulics Technician and Camp Fire alum  Madison Green, and Vice President and Strategic Environmental Consultant at WSP USA, Cheryl Kreindler.

“Cheryl and Madison each bring very different experiences and perspectives that will enrich our national board and help lead us into the future,” said Greg Zweber, Camp Fire National Headquarters CEO. “We are honored that they are willing to invest in Camp Fire and share their expertise: Madison as an involved Camp Fire youth, local board member, and now alumni, and Cheryl as 30-year corporate professional focused on growth, operations, and business development.”

Meet them both:

Cheryl Kreindler

Cheryl Kreindler is a vice president and strategic environmental consultant at WSP USA Inc. with more than 30-years experience. She works with clients to create performance-based programs and optimize business processes using systematic approaches. In addition to her client work, Cheryl has held business development and operations roles to drive growth and deliver against the company business plan. When not working, Cheryl spends her time hiking, reading, and cooking. She has completed the 1,400+ mile Buckeye Trail and has turned her attention to hiking the North Country National Scenic Trail, a 4,800+ mile trail that runs between North Dakota and Vermont. Cheryl resides in Ohio with her husband, Mark.

Madison Green

Madison Green is currently serving in the US Air Force as a Hydraulics Technician on F15s, F16s, and A10s. When she is not keeping pilots in the sky, she is working diligently to complete her Bachelor of Science in Aeronautical Sciences at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University where she will be graduating in December. Madison has been involved with Camp Fire since middle school, volunteering at various outreach programs. In high school, she had the opportunity to serve as a youth member of the local board, where she was able to gain first-hand experience planning and executing various fundraising initiatives. Currently living in North Carolina, Madison enjoys exploring the mountains with her close friends.

Welcome, Madison and Cheryl! We are excited to have your leadership for 2023 and beyond.



Growing up is hard. That’s why Camp Fire connects young people to the outdoors, to others, and to themselves. Founded in 1910, Camp Fire was the first nonsectarian, multiracial organization for girls but today is an inclusive national youth development nonprofit that serves all young people. By creating safe spaces where young people can have fun and be themselves, its 47 affiliates in 24 states provides affirming, year-round, youth-driven experiences—school day programs, afterschool programs, leadership programs, and camps and outdoor education—that enable youth to develop essential skills that have long-term benefits and make a positive social impact on the world. 

For more information please contact:

Erin K Risner, Director of Marketing & Communications, Camp Fire National Headquarters, 913.289.4773,

Getting focused: Our goals for 2023-2025

Cover image: Camp Fire National Headquarters Strategic Plan FY 2023-2025Well, hello, 2023. What do you have in store for us? Our new strategic plan has some (very exciting) spoilers.  

We opened 2022 with a new vision for Camp Fire: We envision a world where all young people thrive and have equitable opportunities for self-discovery, community connection, and engagement with nature. 

That’s a big dream. And we took some big steps last year, including expanding our CAMPER program to increase access to outdoor programs, standing with trans* young people, revamping our definition of thriving, redesigning our awards and recognition emblems as part of our continuing efforts to end cultural appropriation in our organization, and more.  

These are all examples of actions we took because we set strong goals in 2021. Smart goal-setting is a fundamental part of many of our programs and core to our organizational process. We recently collaborated with National Headquarters team members, affiliate staff, alumni, and our Youth Advisory Cabinet to set priorities for the next two years. Led by our mission, vision and values, we considered what young people need and how we can respond to come up with six strategic focus areas for 2023 – 2025:

Uplift the Camp Fire community to build connection to the outdoors, to others, and to themselves. 

This includes increasing alumni engagement, developing professional learning communities for staff, expanding relationships with like-minded outdoor partner organizations, investing in professional development, and promoting environmental stewardship and action across the Camp Fire board. 

Champion a thriving workforce, present and future. 

photo of child smiling and looking at the camera“This focus was a lightbulb moment for us!” said Shawna Rosenzweig, Camp Fire Chief Strategy Officer. “At Camp Fire, young people explore their interests and passions, develop employability skills, and apply their knowledge to real-world experiences — all things that get young people workforce ready!”

Shawna shared Camp Fire is in a unique position to be able to help young people see themselves in careers where their identities may have been underrepresented, including STEM fields. This focus also includes attention to Camp Fire’s present workforce, especially when it comes to equitable recruitment and retention strategies to ensure representation reflective of program participants through all levels of the organization.

three teenagers smiling together the cameraUnify and amplify the Camp Fire brand to maximize organizational impact. 

“Camp Fire is leading the way in diverse, equitable, accessible, and inclusive programs that build a sense of belonging for young people,” said Shawna. “We often talk about Camp Fire being a best kept secret. Through our partnerships, advocacy, and innovations, we are primed to amplify the amazing work happening across the Camp Fire network!” 

Shawna believes that Camp Fire can be a leader at local, state and national levels in conversations about how to support young people. Camp Fire is already participating in two national U.S. Department of Education initiatives, the National Partnership for Student Success and YOU Belong in STEM, and will continue to look for ways to contribute as a thought leader and proponent of youth voice.  

This goal also includes demonstrating inclusion in all parts of the Camp Fire experience, increasing engagement in brand campaigns (like Absolutely Incredible Kid Day), and continuing to communicate Camp Fire’s benefits in compelling ways.  

“In volatile times, young people and their families and caregivers are looking to us to stand for something, to lead the way, and use our voice to amplify those who may not otherwise be heard,” Shawna said.  

Little girl writingDiversify funding and revenue streams to ensure Camp Fire’s financial sustainability for future generations. 

The vision has to be funded! This goal includes growing philanthropic revenue, expanding our programming into new markets, establishing mission-driven public and private partnerships, and more. 

Address the legacy of organizational practices, past and present, that appropriate Indigenous cultures. 

teen smiling at the camera“We just returned from Washington DC where we spent a full-day mapping out a partnership blueprint, facilitated by the dream team at Third Settlements,” Shawna shared. “We had the opportunity to engage openly and honestly with our partners at the National Indian Education Association to develop a mutually beneficial partnership model. We are creating a new blueprint for how to partner with organizations and communities in a more equitable and transparent way. It’s exciting!” 

This goal also includes investing in professional development resources, building strategies for ending appropriate practices across the network and acknowledging/repairing harm, and promoting the new non-appropriative reward and recognition emblems.

girl smiling at camera while playing tetherballJourney toward equity and justice by advancing inclusion, dismantling racism and oppression in ourselves and our institutions. 

This goal includes recognizing innovative inclusion practices, breaking down participation barriers, expanding relationships with other equity-minded community-based organizations, continuing to build a culture of inclusion, investing in DEIA professional development and partnering with young people on these issues.  

“We hear from young people that issues of inequity and injustice (along with concerns around mental health and the climate crisis) are upsetting, demoralizing, and can feel overwhelming,” Shawna said. “This is where Camp Fire comes in. We can do our part to support young people to learn more, create change, and develop a strong sense of self and community so that they can take on these challenges.”


What area of focus gets you the most excited for 2023? 

“Prepare us for the future we are forced to prepare for.” – A reflection on the transformational power of youth leadership

Photo of Hannah Howard

Hannah Howard

Evaluations Manager, Camp Fire

Hannah recently attended a Youth Voice initiative in Chicago focused on listening to young people about their ideas, wants, and needs for afterschool programs. She was incredibly moved by what they had to say and shared her reflections below:

“Prepare us for the future we are forced to prepare for,”

A young person commanded of the intergenerational room. She was speaking at the Powered by Youth Voice Initiative in Chicago that I had the opportunity to attend this past week. The initiative had an innovative focus on centering youth voices to advance new directions for the afterschool field. About 60 youth from communities across the nation convened in the windy city to present ideas for what their ideal afterschool program would look like. They then got to decide how $100,000 would be spent to support one, some, or all of the proposed ideas. The adults in the room were simply asked to listen while their messages rang loud and clear.

Angelica Portillo – Director of Advocacy and Workforce Initiatives, National Afterschool Association | Hannah Howard – Evaluations Manager, Camp Fire

The youth asked for spaces for exploration, with one presentation literally asking for a building with empty free space for youth to just “create”. You read that right- empty space. Let the youth fill it, instead of adults. They asked for spaces for collaboration, where an adult may lead a financial literacy class, and later a youth may lead a session sharing about their culture or about a social justice issue. There was a focus on youth choosing their own activities, and if nothing was of interest, to lead something themselves or with a peer. They also asked for spaces for healing, with multiple requests for therapy sessions to take place within afterschool programs and for Zen Rooms to be available with pillows and candles. In this program, you would be fully immersed in a community space that addressed your curiosities and encouraged your strengths, while holding everyone’s emotions and traumas tenderly in that same space.

That made me pause. The thought that all of me could be held in one space, and not be too much…THAT concept, made my eyes well up. 

There is something reminiscent about being in a teen-led space. It makes you recall your childhood, to put yourself in those shoes again. As slide after slide appeared, I reflected on what a space like that would have meant to me as a middle schooler dealing with bullying or as a high schooler with anorexia who felt a sense of loneliness in a world that seemed so small at that age. These young people so gently painted a world that was beyond our current reality, a visionary future of listening to each other and learning alongside each other. And it was in that gentle reminder, that I became overwhelmed.

Youth leadership is transformational leadership. 

Help the Friendship Fund open up outdoor experiences to all

We know that camp and outdoor programs help young people connect to the environment and each other. These life-changing experiences have long-term benefits: strong developmental relationships with safe adults; a chance to explore new interests and skills; mental health supports; and a sense of belonging — to a community and the earth itself. 

photo of kids smiling and laughing on colorful backgroundBut there are many unseen barriers that can keep kids and teens from engaging with Camp Fire’s camp and outdoor programs. Financial need, facilities that aren’t accessible, and non-inclusive policies and practices can block their full participation. 

That’s not good enough for the young people we serve. We want all kids to be able to experience the goodness of getting outdoors

This is where YOU and the Friendship Fund come in. 

The Camp Fire National Friendship Fund is a financial and community resource assistance program that fills in funding gaps throughout the national Camp Fire network, extends existing scholarship programs, and supports projects that remove barriers to accessibility.

“Through our Camp Accessibility, Meaningful Participation, and Equal Representation (C.A.M.P.E.R.) efforts, we heard from young people about the barriers that exist to accessing camp and having a meaningful camp experience,” said Shawna Rosenzweig, Camp Fire’s Chief Strategy Officer. “We wanted to focus our attention on the setting or program needing to be redesigned rather than centering the young person or their identities as the ‘barrier’. The Friendship Fund was a great way to ask affiliates to focus their attention on ways to design camp to build a stronger sense of belonging.”

image tex reads" young people need youOur modern-day Friendship Fund has an historical precedent as Camp Fire’s emergency relief source in the 1950s through 1970s. Central to Camp Fire’s efforts to help the Prince William Sound area recover after the devastating Alaskan earthquake of 1964, the fund enabled delivery of supplies, a day camp in Seward, and camperships for Alaskan Native young women. 

The new version of the fund re-launched in 2022 with $20,000 given by a seed donor. All Camp Fire’s affiliate camps had access to the first round of funding and could request up to $5,000. 

“Affiliates applied and had a planning session with Ben Matthews [Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Specialist],” Shawna explained. “Once their plan was finalized, we gave them the requested funds.”

Here are some of the projects the Friendship Fund supported in 2022: 

  • Covering Camp Fire Samish tuition for families with limited incomes
  • Buying outdoor gear (hiking boots, sleeping bags, water bottles, jackets, etc.) for campers with financial need at Camp Fire Snohomish
  • Installing automatic door-openers at Camp Fire Minnesota’s dining hall and community center to boost accessibility
  • Buying swim shirts for Camp Fire Heart of Iowa campers and staff, as part of a new gender-inclusive & gender-neutral swim dress-code policy
  • Upgrading water systems and bathrooms at Camp Fire Inland Northwest 
  • Supporting a new Leader-in-Training program for Indigenous youth at Camp Fire Alaska that provided free camp tuition, stipends and workforce skills training

donate todayApplications for 2023 Friendship Fund projects will open early next year. We’d like to grow the Friendship Fund to help meet the growing needs of campers and camps throughout our network. 

Your gift can help affiliate camps make updates that create more welcoming environments and subsidize outdoor experiences for campers with financial needs. 

“Each of our affiliate camps have different tuition prices, but range from $400 to $1,800 depending on the location, session, length of session, and activities offered,” Ben said. 

As families and organizations continue to face economic uncertainty, the Friendship Fund can help us deliver on our vision of a world where all kids get an equitable chance to discover themselves, connect with their community and engage with nature.   

Can you help us break down barriers to life-changing outdoor experiences? 

Give Now!

How Election Season Impacts LGBTQ2S+ Youth

By Shawna Rosenzweig, Chief Strategy Officer, Camp Fire National Headquarters

Shawna Rosenzweig Chief Strategy Officer Camp Fire National Headquarters

This election season, it’s hard to miss all the negative campaign ads, mudslinging and scare tactics on tv and online. Some people chock it up to “just politics,” but I know from my own experience as a member of the LGBTQ2S+ community, as well as working in youth development for nearly two decades, that politics have real consequences on the lives of young people—many of whom aren’t old enough to vote themselves. When youth are under attack with no recourse at the polls, it’s up to caring adults to support them. I want to acknowledge that young people from other historically excluded identities, specifically Black, Asian, Latino/a/x/e, Indigenous, and immigrants, are also targeted and experiencing the same dangerous mental health impacts.

The Trevor Project reports that “in 2022 alone, nearly 300 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced in 39 states.” Many of the bills target young people. The measures restrict or criminalize health care for trans youth, bar access to appropriate facilities such as restrooms, restrict trans students’ full participation in school and sports, permit religiously-motivated discrimination against trans people and make it more difficult to get identification documents with their name and gender. 

These public debates have a profoundly negative effect on youth mental health. According to The Trevor Project, “this year, 85% of transgender & nonbinary and 66% of LGBTQ young people said recent debates about state laws restricting the rights of transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health.” As a queer leader of a national youth development organization, I feel compelled to do better for our kids. And I need you to be actively involved, too, whether you are a parent or guardian, an educator, a youth worker or just someone who cares.

Move From “It’s Political” to “It’s Personal”

Identities are personal but are often politicized to create fear, especially during election years. One way to be a supportive adult to LGBTQ2S+ youth is to educate yourself about the pressures and prejudices they are facing. It can be tempting to think that society is becoming more accepting overall but “45% of LGBTQ youth have seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year and nearly 1 in 5 transgender and nonbinary youth have attempted suicide,” so we know that there is still a lot of work to be done. Staying in tune with LGBTQ2S+ advocacy organizations and with LGBTQ2S+ youth organizations can keep you informed about the progress and opportunities for building a more inclusive world. 

When it comes to elections, inform yourself about candidates and ballot measures. Do your homework to know how LGBTQ2S+ youth will be affected by specific politicians and legislation. Stay engaged at the local level as well as in state and federal elections. Listen to the stories of kids and teens who just want to live their lives authentically and free from harm. 

Create Welcoming Spaces for LGBTQ2S+ Youth

During election season and beyond, supportive adults have opportunities to make spaces where youth can be themselves, find belonging and get involved in a meaningful way. In my work at Camp Fire, that looks like connecting youth to the outdoors, to others, and to themselves. This is our vision:

We envision a world where all young people thrive and have equitable opportunities for self-discovery, community connection, and engagement with nature.

Creating equitable opportunities that meet youth where they are involves intentional investment in young people who have been historically excluded, including those who identify as LGBTQ2S+. It means honoring the power of young people with meaningful participation in decision-making. It also means nurturing equitable developmental relationships.

Shawna Rosenzweig, Chief Strategy Officer, Camp Fire National Headquarters speaking at NAA convention
Speaking at the 2022 National Afterschool Association convention

Nurture Developmental Relationships

It’s important—and hopeful—to know that youth can be positively influenced by adults both in and outside of their families. “No matter the source of hardship, the single most common factor for children who end up doing well is having the support of at least one stable and committed relationship with a parent, caregiver, or other adult,” reads Harvard’s The Science of Resilience. In the case of LGBTQ2S+ youth, The Trevor Project’s research has shown that “even one accepting adult can decrease an LGBTQ young person’s risk of suicide by up to 40%.” You matter to youth.

One way that Camp Fire is investing in high-impact intergenerational relationships is by working with the Search Institute’s framework for developmental relationships. Developmental relationships are relationships that help people discover who they are, develop the skills they need to live with agency, and connect and give back to others. The Search Institute’s framework for developmental relationships includes five components of a powerfully positive connection:

  1. Express care—Show me that I matter to you.
  2. Challenge growth—Push me to keep getting better.
  3. Provide support—Help me complete tasks and achieve goals.
  4. Share power—Treat me with respect and give me a say.
  5. Expand possibilities—Connect me with people and places that broaden my world.

Think about how you can engage in the framework in your role(s) with youth. Get more ideas from the Search Institute for building developmental relationships.

Keep the Conversation Going

Being supportive means showing up consistently and being open when youth are ready to talk. Remember that listening is more important than having all the answers.

#EmblemDrop2022: It’s here!

Today, we’re very excited to share our first awards and recognition emblem redesign: 125 emblems. 3 years of collaborative, youth-led work. 100 years in the making. 0 cultural appropriation. Thousands of great memories to come.  


Poster with all the new emblems


For the very first time, these emblems will be available as stickers, not just patches. Camp Fire members told us they wanted more ways to display their achievements. These high-quality emblem stickers can be placed on journals, phone cases, water bottles and more—anywhere Camp Fire members want to show their Camp Fire pride!  

Another notable change: These emblems can also be earned outside of the traditional club “trail system.” Camp Fire’s programming has expanded over the years to include afterschool and other programs that may involve young people for shorter periods of time. We want to be able to recognize the achievements of all Camp Fire participants, no matter how long they are growing and learning with us. Clubs can continue to use the trail system; shorter programs can use an a la carte method. There are more details for councils in our official Emblem Guide, but the upshot is this: More recognition for more kids!

As in the past, these emblems are only available to verified Camp Fire council purchasers through Riverbend Camp Fire Store. We will continue to preserve the meaning of these emblems as something that can only be earned, not bought. Affiliates will have access to the full guide with award descriptions, aligned activities and recommended recipients. 

Read more about what led us to this important decision and the process we took to get here.

Ready to celebrate with us? Here are a few things you can do to join the party: 

#EmblemDrop2022: One Week Out!

7 Days #eblemdrop2022

Count ’em: There are seven days left until we reveal Camp Fire’s first full emblem redesign in 100 years. Emblems have been an important part of Camp Fire’s history; they are a tangible, displayable record of how Camp Fire members have grown, learned, achieved and contributed to their communities. But our members, leaders and clubs recognized that this tradition needed revisions to reflect where Camp Fire is today, not just where it’s been.  

How did we arrive at 125 new emblem designs and a few crucial updates to how they are earned? By following our values. Two values in particular inspired us to reimagine how to recognize and reward young people in Camp Fire:

1. WE ARE INCLUSIVE. Part of creating a safe and inclusive environment that welcomes all young people is reckoning with mistakes we’ve made openly and honestly. In 2019, Camp Fire National began work to acknowledge, address, and end our use of Native and Indigenous inspired language, symbols, and traditions. Camp Fire understands that its historic misuse and creation of items that were meant to mimic Native and Indigenous cultures, particularly through our rewards, recognitions, and ceremonies, have caused harm to Native and Indigenous communities by contributing to the homogenization, stereotyping, and erasure of these cultures. In 2020, our task force of council representatives, National Headquarters staff, content experts, members of Indigenous communities, and a Youth Advisory Cabinet member worked with Thrive Paradigm to audit instances of cultural appropriation throughout our organization. That team determined redesigning the awards and recognition emblems would be a necessary step in repairing harm. But what would that process look like? We turned to another Camp Fire value:

2. WE HONOR THE POWER OF YOUNG PEOPLE. So we asked them to lead this process. In 2021, Camp Fire National hosted a group of young people from Camp Fire councils across the nation to re-imagine our national rewards and recognition items. This initiative, called Make Your Mark, allowed young people across the country to discuss the implications of cultural appropriation and to design new emblems for youth rewards and recognition items.

“We talked through what cultural appropriation is, how to recognize it, and where else it might show up in their lives,” explained Ben Matthews, Camp Fire Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Specialist. “We helped them understand why some of the images we were using were problematic.”  

Why redesign all of the emblems if only some had culturally appropriated imagery? Because Camp Fire’s young people said so!

“Even if some of the images weren’t problematic, they weren’t really resonating with young people now,” Ben said. “One of the things we heard from young people was, ‘I earned this five years ago, but I have no idea what it is. I can’t tell what it’s supposed to represent.’ Our rewards and recognition process wasn’t working for them, anyway.” 

Our designer, Khyneesha Edwards, partnered with the Make Your Mark team and our Youth Advisory Council to develop a whole new set of emblems that reflected how young people wanted to be recognized today.

“We worked with them to decide what meant the most to them,” Ben said, “and what they would be proud to earn and proud to display.”   

Excited yet? We’ll be counting down to #EmblemDrop2022 on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn over the next week. Join us as we anticipate and celebrate this historic update! And while you’re at it, check out the new official merch designs in our Camp Fire store.