SAVE THE DATE: A Redesign 100 Years in the Making


Mark your calendars: November 1 is bringing big, bright changes to the way Camp Fire recognizes young people’s growth and achievements. For the first time in 100 years, we’ve totally reimagined our emblems for rewards and recognition. Spurred on by our commitment to end cultural appropriation and led by Camp Fire youth, this three-year emblem refresh project is like nothing we’ve undertaken before. We can’t wait to tell you the whole story—and share the brand new emblem lineup. The countdown to the big reveal will begin on October 25. Follow along with the #EmblemDrop2022 on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and right here on the Camp Fire blog 

Camp Fire alumni keep camp history alive

Sign showing "Ojiketa Regional Park"The Ojiketa Preservation Society continues Camp Fire’s impact in the Twin Cities region long after the camp it is named after closed. 

In 1926, the St. Paul Council of Camp Fire Girls opened Camp Ojiketa in Chisago City, Minnesota, on the shores of Green Lake. The summer camp hosted Camp Fire girls (and boys, too, starting in 1977) from the surrounding area for 79 years until it closed in 2005. More than 150 Camp Ojiketa alumni gathered in the summer of 2006 for what they assumed would be a final reunion at the former campgrounds. That was where the seed for the Ojiketa Preservation Society was planted. 

After that reunion, a group of former Ojiketa campers stayed in touch via email and began discussing how they could keep the spirit of Ojiketa alive and advocate for the land itself, which was being put up for sale. They didn’t want to see it become a housing development like Camp Cheewin, the neighboring Camp Fire camp that hosted younger campers between 1954 and 1995. 

In the summer of 2007, a small but passionate group met at Alice Magnuson’s cabin to strategize; they continued to meet that fall, when The Ojiketa Preservation Society (OPS) was officially born. The team rallied alumni from all over the country while meeting with local politicians and staying in the loop with Camp Fire leadership. 

“After 30 or so years of not really seeing Ojiketa campers, they came out of the woodwork to try to see what we could do to help preserve this very special place,” remembered Alice.  

Two of the things Julie Redpath, former camper and current OPS member, said she learned at Ojiketa was to “walk gently and respectfully on the earth” and “leave it better than it was.” The lessons the camp taught came back to save it in the end. 

 “Ojiketa has always been a place I feel safe,” said Amy Wood, the youngest member of OPS and its bridge to younger alumni. “It was important to me that Ojiketa, the property, remain a place people could enjoy exploring, sharing with friends and a place to find solitude.”

While developers were making offers for the land, OPS kicked into high gear. They were hatching  a plan of their own: Bring together private donors, city funds and public land bills to preserve the camp as a regional park. 

I worked for the Minnesota DNR at the time of the sale process and was able to keep an eye on funding bills,” said Julie. “I attend and testified at funding committee hearings and rallied the troops when support was needed at the legislature.” 

In 2008, the real estate crash sent other potential buyers scattering. OPS began a fundraising campaign targeting Ojiketa alumni and hosted an awareness-raising open house in August. Their efforts picked up steam and caught press attention. Finally, at the end of 2008, Chisago City was able to purchase Camp Ojiketa for $3.4 million. $186,000 came from alumni donations through OPS’s fundraising campaign. Camp Ojiketa was now Chisago City’s Ojiketa Regional Park.

I believe that being a part of OPS and helping to acquire the land as a Regional Park is one of the more important things that I’ve done in my lifetime,” said Margy Ingram, the first OPS treasurer. “I am so proud of all of us!”

OPS now operates a Camp Ojiketa Heritage Center at the park  featuring Camp Fire memorabilia — and the memories of so many former campers like themselves.  

Saving Ojiketa was like saving part of myself,” said Nancy Nissen, the current treasurer for the Ojiketa Preservation Society. “So many friendships started here; so many memories were created; there is so much beauty to share with everyone.”


Some favorite memories from Camp Ojiketa: 

  • “Baking a reflector oven birthday cake while on a BWCA (Boundary Waters Canoe Area) canoe trip in a snow storm in August while windbound on a small, rocky island.” – Julie Redpath 
  • “My favorite memory of Ojiketa is everything!  I came with my dad on work weekends, both before camp opened and after it closed.  I came to Camp in the summer.  I came with our Camp Fire group for overnights on weekends during the school year.  In high school I convinced my friend who was not even a Camp Fire girl to come with me to camp and be a dishwasher/kitchen girl for a month!” – Nancy Nissen
  • I have no favorite memory but many I cherish. Learning about what birds were making noise at night keeping me awake and what birds were first to wake me up in the morning was one of the first things I was taught about nature at Ojiketa. I still check this out when I am visiting new places.” – Amy Wood
  • In order to spend more time at Camp Ojiketa I became a camp Bugler! I played 13 bugle calls each day and blew them twice, once in each direction of the camp, in order to cover the whole camp. I was late for Reveille only one time. The cooks made it VERY clear I was not to oversleep again. I didn’t.” – Alice Magnuson 
  • “I loved everything: morning sing, swimming, handcraft, campcraft, being a hopper, cook outs and overnights, campfires, and the songs, and the horses—yes the horses were a favorite!” – Margy (Wood) Ingram


Camp Ojiketa Lessons:

  • “Girls/women are capable, wise and command respect. Be proud of who you are. Walk gently and respectfully on the earth. Leave it better than it was. Make new friends and keep the old. One is silver and the other gold. Working together makes a task easier and probably fun.– Julie Redpath 
  • “What I learned that has stuck with me is that you need to scrape your plate and wipe the peanut butter off your silverware before you put it in the dishwasher!” – Nancy Nissen
  • “It was at Ojiketa I learned how to develop friendships with girls with life experiences very different from my own. I learned to negotiate and stand back and let others take the lead. I learned to take the lead when needed, even when it may not have been something I really wanted to do. The true meaning of ‘give service’ became clear to me during my time at Ojiketa.” – Amy Wood
  • All of these experiences taught me leadership responsibilities, time management skills and built confidence in me as a human being — traits young women were working toward in the late 1960s and early 1970s.” – Alice Magnuson

You have to center joy: Understanding thriving with Dr. Kia Darling-Hammond


Photo of Dr. Kia Darling-HammondWe’ve been very lucky to partner with Dr. Kia Darling-Hammond, a leader in thriving research, as we re-envisioned Camp Fire’s definition of thriving. Dr. Darling-Hammond puts “overlooked and underserved” young people at the center of her work, an approach that both fits our values and helps us move further toward our goal of being a truly equitable organization. Her thriving framework is built on youth voice and includes elements (like pleasure) that are often overlooked or even left out of definitions of thriving. She’s a huge inspiration to us, so we wanted to spend some more time asking how she helps both individuals and organizations widen their understanding of thriving.


Camp Fire: How did your interest in thriving begin?

Dr. Kia: I think the real origin was in broader questions like “Isn’t there more to life than just succeeding? Isn’t there more to life than just surviving?” I have this “high justice orientation,” apparently, when I see things that feel unjust I need to say something and engage. 

When I became a school teacher (then an administrator), I realized that a lot of us were “doing everything right.” Students were showing up, they were making an effort, they were working hard. Some of them were exceptionally successful at school, but they were struggling to feel whole. This was also true of adults around them.

The system of schooling got in the way of wholeness in a host of ways. People couldn’t be authentic, everything that they did was controlled, there was no real bodily autonomy. Certain students were policed more than others, punished more than others. I had a wake up call about the limitations of systems and institutions for creating the conditions for thriving. 

I also had a personal epiphany: There I was, in my 30s. I felt terrible. I was not happy. I had done all these things “right.” And I didn’t know how to live or build a vibrant, authentic life. 

Many of my students were unapologetic about who they were. Even within the constraints of the school, where certain students (Black, Latiné, disabled, LGBTQ+/SGL) were targeted and disproportionately punished, they still had a resistant attitude of “Hey, take me or leave me.” Not only did that help me look at myself more clearly, it also helped me evaluate what we were there (as educators) to do. What the purpose of education was. 

Being a school administrator almost killed me. There was no way to thrive under those conditions. So I took a break to breathe and think about what I wanted to do with my vital energy in the service of the young people I care about. That’s when I started studying flourishing and trauma and healing-centered engagement and all of those things very explicitly. 

And then I came back to a bunch of the young people who had been influential in my life, and I said, “Hey, will you talk to me about what you think [thriving] is supposed to be?” “Who else should I talk to about this?”

Out of that I ended up engaging with a cadre of Black queer, trans, nonbinary, and same gender loving young adults and youth who offered a beautiful treatment of thriving, and that evolved into this framework.


Camp Fire: So your thriving framework started with the kids in your life telling you what they needed and what they wanted?

Dr. Kia: Yes. And very specifically, the young people who were overlooked and who felt like everywhere they turned something was trying to make them impossible or small. 


Camp Fire: How did that change your understanding of thriving? Were there things that came out of those conversations with young people that were different than what you were learning in grad school?

Dr. Kia: First of all, very little research was treating flourishing or thriving through the lens of being multiply (pronounced mul*ti*plee) marginalized. What little there was had a tendency to stop at resilience. So we’re bouncing back, we’re surviving, we’re coping, but we’re not designing for the world we actually want to see, or even demanding it, right? 

A lot of the literature took for granted that the world and its structures and institutions were just in need of some tweaking and reform: We just need better laws, we just need better schools, we just need to train our teachers more. They weren’t visionary. They weren’t imagining beyond. 

These young people were imagining beyond. They were dreaming.

And so one of the really important pieces of thriving in my framework is having the expansiveness and spaciousness to dream.

And while that’s not in the psychology literature — the dreaming, the abundance — it is in the Black fugitivity discourse, it is in the liberation literature. The invitation of the work that I was doing was to marry these different conceptions of wholeness, abundance and freedom. I needed to bring the liberation conversation into the psychology: What happens when self determination isn’t just individual, but political? When it’s not just individual, but collective? (Note: there is exciting new research on critical positive youth development and the power of collective activism for healing and thriving.)

These young people also had a treatment of pleasure that was important, because their engagement with pleasure was very ratchet, right? It was loud, it was unapologetic, it was irreverent. It was not “respectable.” And that was such an important freedom practice that they were bringing into this conversation about thriving. Also, because their pleasure was queer, trans and nonbinary pleasure, same gender loving pleasure, they were refusing stigma, they were refusing shame. So even though [pleasure] is in some of the literature, the way they were doing it as a prerequisite for thriving was an important contribution. 

And then, of course, relief is a big part of any discourse on flourishing. But what does relief mean when you’re Black and queer and young? The ways that we imagine freedom when we center these identities, especially these identities in tandem, grows and evolves. 

In addition to racism, anti-Blackness, and cis-hetero-patriarchy, youth age-ism is at play: Adultism is invisible to a lot of us, especially those of us who are designing frameworks, writing the literature, making these decisions and designing the programs. So centering [relief] from oppression was a big contribution and something that they [said] was essential. 

They also talked about the importance of affinity — of being legible to the people around them and not having to explain themselves. It’s not that you can’t be in positive relationship with people who are different from you. But there has to be a place where you get to just be. They really honed in on, “I just need to have a place where I can be whole, simply be, just exist.”


Camp Fire: I don’t think I’ve seen pleasure listed on any developmental framework before. When an organization uses a framework that includes pleasure, how does that change how it interacts?

Dr. Kia: Well, I don’t know that having it listed makes a difference by itself. I think this has to do with beliefs and practices, right? You have to center joy. You have to ask yourself: “Is this joyful? Does this create the conditions for joy? How might this get in the way of joy? And are the people who I’ve designed this for in agreement with me that this is joyful?” 

The truth is, a lot of what we do to serve young people constrains them, as well. A lot of what we design that’s supposed to be about safety becomes about compliance and control. So people who have designed inside of the confines of the way we normally do youth stuff, start to grapple with these questions:

“How do we do freedom and structure?

How do we do joy and safety?”

One of the things that I notice is that the adults have to do the work of unlearning scarcity: “Wait a minute, I can thrive? This could be fun? What would make this fun for me?” 

The adults have to change their framework for what it means to do youth development. So that kind of stuff comes up. In my experience, when I do this work with adults, it gets them really excited and invigorated. And then they run into these questions about how do I make freedom considering the confines of the world I live in?


Camp Fire: What gets people past those roadblocks?

Dr. Kia: One thing that’s really important is helping people tap into their inner child. We do a lot of work around imagining your moments of wholeness. Imagine things that make you just giddy. Be at play. Go into that space and then imagine what’s possible. I think taking a reform approach is immediately self-limiting. A dreaming approach is expansive. You have to give people permission to dream. Give yourself permission to assume that anything is possible. 

And remember that we have come as far as we have (socially, politically) because people have been imaginative, right? There’s been struggle, certainly, there’s been organizing and fighting and all of that, but all of the revolution we’ve seen has started with an idea, a dream. And so we know it’s possible. Possibility models are powerful.

And you have to have time to keep imagining, which means you have to make demands and refusals. You get to refuse scarcity. You get to refuse the things that make you feel impossible or small. You get to refuse things that put you in danger. I’m not saying there aren’t consequences, but one of the most powerful things for people to recognize is that there’s always a choice. That’s really important, especially for those of us whose communities experience genocide or enslavement, because those are conditions under which people have to really face the question of “What can I live with?” “What will I refuse?” The stakes are immediate and sky high. And then there’s the demand: You’re entitled to thrive. You deserve to thrive. I’m entitled to eat mangoes (my favorite fruit) and lounge on the beach and tell stories and make music with kids and weave the things that I need. How do I create the conditions that make that real for me and others?


Camp Fire: What kinds of refusals and demands have you seen people and organizations you work with make? 

Dr. Kia: A lot of people have quit jobs! Many have quit relationships. They recognize that their trajectory is not what they want and choose to shift direction. One young person decided to compete in the Gay Games, which also meant publicly, and very visibly, disclosing their sexual orientation. I’ve definitely seen people reframe their policies. In one case, [an organization said] “If we know that young Black and brown people have the most sporadic, least consistent, least well-subsidized access to mental health services, what policy will we enact to mitigate that access issue? Oh, we’re not going to charge or we’ll have a sliding scale. We’ll look for grants and gifts that subsidize the cost of service.” That kind of thing. 

In the case of Camp Fire, of course, it was “We’re going to rejigger how we think about and talk about this work, and distill it down to these really big things — relationship with self, relationship with others, relationship with nature — through this thriving lens and acknowledge these different dimensions are important.” 


Camp Fire: When other organizations have looked at what thriving really means, how has it changed them?

Dr. Kia: Camp Fire is different, because thriving is already the core. But in most of the organizations I work with, nobody’s really thought about thriving. They’ve thought about surviving, success, coping, or resilience, but not thriving. So when you invite people to really think about the conditions that make thriving possible, they often talk about feeling energized, surprised, and relieved. Yeah. There’s something very hopeful about somebody saying, “Oh, yeah, totally, thriving is there for you. It’s possible, You deserve it.”

These efforts do run into structural challenges, and not everybody is ready to face those things. Scarcity culture is real. Urgency culture is real. So then the invitation is to figure out what you can do in the moment that’s manageable.

Learning how to hold boundaries is big work for a lot of us, right? Helping people to identify their needs and desires, come up with the language to talk about them, and feel comfortable championing their holistic wellbeing is a big part of the work.

People are very grateful for the support to do that. They become creative about making space and time for it.


LEARN MORE about Dr. Kia’s work. 

GET INVOLVED Help young people thrive through Camp Fire’s innovative, inclusive programming.  

3 reasons we need afterschool programs NOW

two girls sitting on a slide in the playground smiling for the camera
Camp Fire Heart of Iowa

Out-of-school-time programs really matter in the day-to-day lives of families and young people. They are also a core strategy in Camp Fire’s mission to connect young people to the outdoors, to others, and to themselves.

We’ve written about our commitment to developing quality programs before, but we wanted to take some time to talk about three reasons afterschool programs are essential right now

1. Young people are in the middle of a mental health crisis.

This past December, the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy made it official when he issued an advisory on the mental health challenges kids, teens and young adults are facing today. Even before the pandemic, more than 1 in 3 high schoolers said they were regularly sad or hopeless, and the isolating effects of the pandemic did nothing to help. Two of the recommendations Dr. Murthy offered were “supporting the mental health of children and youth in educational, community and childcare settings” and  “addressing the economic and social barriers that contribute to poor mental health.” Afterschool programs offer social emotional learning (SEL) in safe environments that strive to be accessible to children of all economic and social backgrounds. 

2. Students are still struggling to catch up after pandemic disruptions.

Although the past school year helped young learners chip away at the COVID-19 learning gap, many students are still behind. Math and reading scores remain lower than normal. Thanks to decades of educational structural racism, Black, Hispanic and Indigenous students are more likely to face pandemic academic challenges. Research has shown that afterschool programs can boost reading comprehension, math scores and overall learning. In fact, 73 percent of afterschool students both get help with homework and participate in STEM activities. High quality afterschool programs can help students make up lost ground academically, emotionally, and socially.

3. There’s a huge shortage of quality afterschool programs available.

According to research by the Afterschool Alliance, even before the pandemic, there were three young people waiting to get into a program for every one attending. Afterschool is inaccessible to 24.6 million children—when even one child missing out on out-of-school-time development is too many. Afterschool programs are one way Camp Fire serves more than 68,000 youth and families annually. We are continually working to expand access, so all kids have equitable opportunities to thrive.

three girls stand together, arms around each other, smiling for a photo
Camp Fire First Texas

Mental health challenges. Pandemic learning gaps. High demand for great programming. These are all reasons why Camp Fire has joined the National Partnership for Student Success. Launched this July, the public-private initiative is designed to drive support to methods proven to help young learners, including afterschool programs! The partnership goal? 250,000 new volunteer tutors, mentors and educators over the next three years. 

Are you ready to help young people thrive after school? Here are three ways you can help: 

  • Volunteer at a Camp Fire afterschool program. Find a council and program near you to get involved.
  • Spread the word about the importance of afterschool programs through Lights On Afterschool next month. The Afterschool Alliance’s annual celebration will be held October 20, 2022. Find an event, share on socials and learn more here!
  • Give to Camp Fire. Your support helps us continue to create innovative, equitable afterschool programming for all kids. Donate today.

We’re re-envisioning “thriving”


Part of the work of being an alive, evolving organization is to revisit the big stuff regularly. If you don’t question why you exist, what your work is, and what you believe every so often, it’s easy to get stagnant. We’ve been talking about our updated why (growing up is hard!), mission (we connect young people to the outdoors, to others, and to themselves), and values throughout the past year. Another important part of our continued growth is re-envisioning thriving – which is central to our vision (a world in which all young people thrive!).

But what does that really mean?

Thriving is a big topic in the positive youth development movement. In the late 20th century and early 21st, social scientists began outlining what positive inputs helped young people not just avoid harm (addiction, violence, dropping out, early pregnancy, etc) but live big, bold, rich lives. The Search Institute has a list of 40 Developmental Assets, or “building blocks,” that can give you an idea of what kinds of things help kids thrive. It’s everything from having adult role models to a sense of purpose. 

While this earlier research remains valid—and valuable—the work we’ve been doing to become an equitable organization inspired us to revisit how we define thriving at Camp Fire. We wanted this to be clear: There is no thriving without equity. There is no thriving without welcoming and affirming young people’s full selves. 

Camp Fire Heart of Oklahoma

We reached out to Dr. Kia Darling-Hammond, whose research puts the “overlooked and underserved” in the center of thriving conversations. As her Bridge to Thriving Framework points out, “designing for the most impacted improves design for all.” With guidance from Dr. Darling-Hammond, we wanted to create a definition of thriving that describes what Camp Fire dreams for all young people.

You tell us: Did we get there? 


Our new definition of thriving is: 

When young people are thriving, they are connected to others, to nature, and to themselves with a loving awareness of their identities, dreams, passions and needs. They are invited to imagine their whole selves and to grow, learn and achieve in a self-determined, purpose-driven way. 

For young people in particular, finding a place where they can simply be—where they can exist fully—can be very difficult, especially when who they are is challenged by society. That’s why Camp Fire designs identity-affirming, accessible environments in which youth can experience the relationships, fun, inspiration, acceptance, safety and support they need in order to thrive. 


We’ll be talking to Dr. Darling-Hammond in more depth for an upcoming blog post. In the meantime, tell us what thriving means to you!


Camp Fire’s Boundary Breaking-History


Written by: Ben Matthews, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Access Specialist  


In 1909, Charlotte Gulick held a small summer camp for her daughters, three of their close friends, and a young woman with disabilities. There was no way she could have known that that first camp would grow into a movement that would survive two World Wars and three global pandemics; see women and other marginalized people win the right to vote; and help shape artists, activists, rock stars and rocket scientists.  

The world was a much different place in those founding years, but so many of the values, goals, and outcomes of Camp Fire remain the same: More than 100 years later, we are still creating space for historically excluded young people; building social and emotional skills; facilitating developmental relationships and community building; and connecting young people to themselves, others, and the outdoors.  


Throughout its history, Camp Fire has made a global impact by breaking boundaries and helping young people make a difference:


In 1910, that small camp became a semi-formal program. The concept of a youth organization that focused on girls’ experiences was immediately popular. As it was called then, Camp Fire Girls empowered young women and challenged gender roles in a fast-changing society. The organization worked to normalize young women learning skills outside of “traditional women’s work” and is even credited with helping popularize bloomers and pants as part of women’s fashion.   

As early as 1914, Camp Fire recognized an increasing number of participants with disabilities and acted quickly to have many of our program materials translated into braille to increase access.  

As World War 1 began, clubs rolled bandages for the Red Cross, planted victory gardens, and sewed clothes for young people in areas of conflict.  A wartime program called “The Minute Girls” had nearly 60,000 participants nationally.  

During the World War II era, Camp Fire councils again organized initiatives to connect resources and people across the globe—sometimes directly saving lives. Two Camp Fire pen-pals, Marianne and Jane, worked together to secure an affidavit and sponsorship to help Marianne’s family escape Nazi-controlled Austria in 1938.   

In 1943, the national council began exploring the concept we now call “privilege” and advocating for marginalized communities by adopting the following policy: “In our program of training girls for responsible citizenship, the problems of minority groups, whether race creed or economic status, must be recognized. Camp Fire should, through its program materials and group activities, train girls of the majority group to understand and respect the accomplishments, capacities, personal dignity, and socio-economic problems of minority groups within our country. It must strive to give girls of all minority groups an opportunity to participate fully in such character-building and recreational programs as ours…”  

In 1952 a national committee on Intercultural Policies and Practices studied councils that had successfully integrated their clubs in order to provide guidance to councils who felt unsure about doing so in their local climates. In 1955 the committee released a pamphlet called “Opportunity for All” to help promote racial inclusiveness in all aspects of Camp Fire.  

Also in 1952, the Camp Fire National office released a booklet titled “Services with and for Handicapped Children” to help leaders adapt programs for youth with disabilities. Camp Fire continued to partner with other organizations caring for and advocating on behalf of people with disabilities. 

Throughout the 1950s and 60s, Martha Allen, the organization’s president, believed that Camp Fire was part of a larger ecosystem of social work, community building and support, health and recreation, and collective impact. This shift included even more efforts to include young women who had previously faced barriers to Camp Fire programs. Leadership, staff, and even volunteers were encouraged to be active and hold positions in other organizations within the social work ecosystem.  

In 1964, Camp Fire Alaska, with the help of the National Camp Fire Friendship fund, purchased a truck and loaded it up to deliver supplies to Alaskan Native villages affected by an earthquake. They opened a day camp for displaced young people and helped 29 of those young women find permanent housing through adoption. This was just the beginning of a long-lasting relationship between Camp Fire Alaska and the Alaskan Native communities that continues to benefit both groups today.  

Camp Fire has used youth voice in decision-making, evaluation, training, development, and youth leadership since its inception. In the 1940s, Camp Fire began offering Train-The-Trainer courses for folks to redistribute their knowledge and skills to their communities. In 1952, Camp Fire created the first official Counselor-In-Training program, then published that model to sell and share with other youth organizations in 1957. The organization hosted weekend seminars and retreats to teach college students extra job skills and youth development methods.  

In 1965 while conducting research on the developmental needs of young Black and Brown people, riots erupted in the neighborhood where programs were happening. Camp Fire staff escorted young people through the sea of rioters and safely to their classes.  

At the 1970 annual meeting, Camp Fire unveiled a proactive social justice platform:  

“We believe in the dignity and worth of each individual; we believe inherent characteristics of each individual differ and should be recognized and the good developed as fully as possible;  

We believe a girl should be encouraged to have positive attitudes and an open-mindedness toward diversity and change;   

We believe in providing girls with experiences to help them develop a responsible attitude toward society and to improve social conditions;   

We believe as a girl grows to accept herself, she is better able to accept and love others;   

We believe in experiences of all kinds for girls which stimulate curiosity, result in learning, provide renewal and adventure;   

We believe in the preservation, development, and wise use of human and natural resources;   

We believe in strengthening and exemplifying the highest standards of a free and democratic society, ever mindful of the need for equal opportunity and justice.   

Recognizing that Camp Fire Girls has always maintained a policy of openness and acceptance of all adults and girls in its program and organization regardless of race, religious belief, or national origin, and recognizing the extraordinary conditions we find present in America today, we submit that our survival as individuals and as a society demands that Camp Fire Girls reaffirm this agency’s involvement in bringing about social change in areas of:  Elimination of prejudice on the basis of race, religious belief, or national origin;  Improvement of the environment;  Improvement of the methods used to cope with social ills;  Opportunity for individuals to influence decisions that affect their lives.”  

In 1973 Camp Fire successfully lobbied to decrease the legal age limit for young people serving on boards of directors in the state of New York, allowing young people to serve as board members.  

In 1975, the movement renamed itself Camp Fire Boys and Girls, officially accepting boys into all programs nationally. Karen Barts, a national program director during this era, was quoted in the Los Angeles Times: “We concluded that boys and girls, men and women, were going to need to be able to relate as equals, to be caring, competent, confident people. And we also concluded that they were going to have to inter-relate as partners, not competitors, not as one being the boss over the other. So we changed our program to meet those needs.” 

Also in the 1970s, minority, disability, and other specialty camps were introduced, and Camp Fire’s approach to behavioral issues shifted from punitive to rehabilitative.  

As a result of young peoples’ passion to educate and bring awareness to the HIV and AIDS epidemic, Camp Fire added sexual orientation to its statement of inclusion in 1993. Groups of young people wrote speeches and plays to educate their peers on HIV/AIDS, some even touring the country to perform at schools and other organizations.  

In 2019, we began work to expand our statement of inclusion, which has some familiar language from our past: Camp Fire believes in the dignity and the intrinsic worth of every human being. We welcome, affirm, and support young people and adults of all abilities and disabilities, experiences, races, ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds, sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions, religion and non-religion, citizenship and immigration status, and any other category people use to define themselves or others. We strive to create safe and inclusive environments that celebrate diversity and foster positive relationships.

Camp Fire’s boundary-breaking work continues today, as those who came before us predicted.  

In 1960, as Camp Fire celebrated 50 years, the authors of the first Camp Fire history book wrote in conclusion, “It is said that the future belongs to that which can change and grow. Camp Fire Girls has provided its creativity, its flexibility, its adaptability, and its ability to grow. Now it must prove it can grow even more to meet a growing, changing world. It has many unfinished goals toward which it will continue to strive.   

Today, in uncertain times of social action, global warming, water crisis, and political unrest, the Camp Fire movement must continue forward toward those “unfinished goals.” Reminding ourselves of our rich history of inclusion, social action, and community response—and recognizing we hold power and privilege as an organization and network—we have a responsibility to further equity and access to all people.  

Are you a Camp Fire alum? JOIN US as we continue Camp Fire’s world-changing history. Get connected on our Alumni Hub!

Camp Fire Celebrates Young People of All Genders

In 2020, we expanded our inclusion statement to get a lot more specific about all the ways young people might define themselves—and how we welcome, affirm and support everyone. One of the categories of diversity that Camp Fire actively celebrates is gender identity. 

Young people are leading us in our understanding of gender diversity. A majority of young adults say that they see gender as a spectrum, instead of a binary male/female identity. Research estimates that 1.2 million American adults identify as nonbinary, and most are under 29 years old.

This youth-driven shift in how our culture perceives, communicates and celebrates gender can be confusing for those of us who grew up with a more static understanding of gender. So we wanted to dedicate some Camp Fire blog space to the latest resources on young people and gender identity to support continued learnings—ours and yours! 


What is gender identity?

To quote the American Academy of Pediatrics:

‘Gender identity’ is one’s internal sense of who one is, which results from a multifaceted interaction of biological traits, developmental influences, and environmental conditions. It may be male, female, somewhere in between, a combination of both, or neither (i.e, not conforming to a binary conceptualization of gender).” 

Or, more simply, as Gender Spectrum puts it:

Gender identity is our internal experience and naming of our gender. It can correspond to or differ from the sex we were assigned at birth.”


Here are a few common misconceptions about gender identity:


  1. Gender identity is not the same thing as sex. Sex is a label given at birth, based on physical characteristics. Usually this is described as “male” or “female,” but in 1.7% of all births, “intersex” babies are born with bodies that don’t fit into one of those two binaries. Someone’s gender identity could line up with the sex they were assigned at birth, or not, or anywhere in between (i.e., the spectrum).  
  2. Gender identity is not the same thing as sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is who we are attracted to, or an “interpersonal” identity, as Gender Spectrum helpfully explains. Gender identity is “how we see ourselves” and a “personal” identity.
  3. Gender identities outside of “man” or “woman” are a not new thing. Cultures across the world “have…long-established traditions for third, fourth, fifth, or more genders.” Here’s a handy map of some of them, created by PBS.


This may be new information to you, and that’s ok! We’re here to learn together.

Here are some good places to learn more about gender identity:



Why does Camp Fire actively work to welcome and affirm young people of all gender identities? 


Very bluntly, because it saves lives. 


But there is hope: Having supportive adults in their lives can make all the difference to gender-diverse young people. In fact, when transgender and nonbinary youth lived in homes where their pronouns were respected, their suicide rates were 50 percent lower than those who did not.

Not surprisingly, having access to spaces that supported their gender identity also lowered suicide rates for LGBTQ2S+ young people.  

And that’s not all. It is core to our values and our vision: a world where all young people thrive. We want youth to “develop meaningful relationships with supportive adults and peers; they feel seen, heard, accepted, supported, and affirmed for who they are today, and who they will be in the future.”

Who among us doesn’t want that?! Being seen, heard, accepted, supported and affirmed for who we all are is everything. 

That’s why Camp Fire is committed to creating safe and inclusive environments where young people of all genders know they are valued, respected and very much needed in the world.


Want to help gender-diverse young people know they belong?

Here are some resources on how to support young people in age-appropriate ways:


Answering the Call to Connection

Young people are craving deep, real connections with people who see them as they are. This was the driver for our new mission statement, and also why we were so excited to discover this remarkable new report, “A Call to Connection: Rediscovering the Transformative Power of Relationships.”  

A Call to Connection: Rediscovering the Transformative Power of Relatiobships

The primer is a collaboration from Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, Sacred Design Lab and the Einhorn Collaborative, a nonprofit that is “advancing the science and practice of empathy, mutual understanding, and relationship building.” Their values align closely with ours, especially when it comes to prioritizing relationships. The primer was written to “spark conversation and inspire action.” 

While we strongly encourage you to take a look, here are three ideas from this rich document that we’ve been digging:  

“Pervasive technologies like smartphones, and the values embedded in them, hinder our ability to shape culture toward connection.”  — “A Call to Connection” 

The primer lists isolating tech alongside social media platforms and polarization as three non-pandemic reasons loneliness is increasing in our culture. (They also cite a Harvard study that found 61 percent of American young adults feel “serious loneliness.”) “A Call to Connection” suggests groups ask themselves “How might our program/product/experience be different if we designed it with these [individual, interpersonal, and societal] obstacles in mind?”  

At Camp Fire, our programs center on unplugged time, especially when it comes to camp and outdoor programming. We know time in nature can help young people both detox and reconnect. To help combat the effects of loneliness and other emotional stressors, we put mental health at the forefront of our programming. From conducting pulse checks to partnering with the mental health nonprofit On Our Sleeves and educating staff and volunteers on trauma-sensitive approaches, we are helping create positive, safe environments where kids can escape the disconnection of modern life.   

Are there other ways Camp Fire can help young people counter the loneliness encoded in smartphone and social media algorithms?  

hands reaching to each other

“Bridging is an opportunity to grow your circle of human concern, and to open yourself to the likelihood of finding real joy and fulfillment in relationships with those who are unlike you in fundamental ways.” — “A Call to Connection” 

The report outlines three “stances” of connection: bonding, bridging and healing. Bridging is connecting with people who are different than we are. It takes curiosity, empathy and a little hard work to bridge, and it’s necessary for both healthy societies and healthy people. The report encourages us to ask, “What are we doing as a group that seems to help us bridge differences among us? How might we do more of that?” 

Offering programming where bridging can happen is a core part of our mission, vision and values. In our journey to become a truly equitable organization, we are committed to creating safe and inclusive environments where everyone can feel welcome now and addressing where we’ve gone wrong in the past. This intentional approach seems to be paying off:  

87 percent of Camp Fire teens say they have built friendships with people who are different from them, and 94 percent of our 3rd through 5th graders say that they feel accepted just the way they are at Camp Fire.  

“I feel like whatever background you come from, whatever your past is, it’s ok to come here because you have a community that’s a lot of different people,” said one day camp participant last year.   

What else can Camp Fire be doing to help young people connect with those who are different?  

“Some of the most effective social containers are found at summer camp…There are the shared bunks and shared meals, of course, but the real magic is in the intentional interactions that create a culture of connection.” — “A Call to Connection” 

“Creating a social container,” or a place where connection is primed to happen, is one of seven practices the report offers. Social containers can be literal spaces or coalesce around a kind of formal or informal covenant—an collaborative agreement of how to be in relationship together. That intentionality can make the long-lasting connection more likely.  

The values and traditions Camp Fire camps create are a kind of social container and/or covenant. The intentional time spent together can lead to real bonds. Last year 26,957 youth participated in Camp Fire’s environmental and camp programs, and demand is strong this year. Many of our camps are reporting numbers that rival pre-pandemic registrations, and some of our camps even have long waiting lists. Kids—and parents—are hungry for connection, and we’re happy to set the stage!  

“This year camp was more important to me because I found people I can connect with,” said one camper from Camp Fire First Texas El Tesoro de la Vida Grief Camp in 2021.  

How have camps helped build connection in your life?  

Are you looking for ways to help the kids in your life connect? Find a nearby Camp Fire camp.  

Do you need more ways to connect and build community? Become a Camp Fire volunteer!  

One of our values: We get outdoors.

April 22 is the official Earth Day holiday, but as every inhabitant of this planet knows in their very molecules…every day is Earth Day! We are hurtling through our galaxy on this gorgeous globe. We humans are made of the same elements as our home, and we share the same fate. Even if some billionaires seem to be in a race to leave it, we’re Team Earth here at Camp Fire. 

That’s why getting out of our human-built structures and into the natural environment is written into our new vision, mission and values. Being in nature teaches us who we are (Earthlings) and how to live (connected to each other and all living things). 

Being outdoors is also just plain good for us. Studies have shown that spending time outside can: 

  • Raise our moods
  • Decrease stress 
  • Boost physical wellness
  • Increase self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Help us connect to our communities and each other
  • Decrease loneliness
  • And much more

For young people in particular, nature experiences have been shown to: 

  • Decrease ADD and ADHD symptoms
  • Help young people with autism connect with their peers
  • Decrease mental fatigue and raise concentration
  • Increase physical activity and lower obesity and Type 2 diabetes risks
  • Relieve anxiety
  • And much more

Spending time in nature has overwhelming positive benefits. That’s why Camp Fire takes the nature gap seriously: We believe every young person has the right to get outdoors, and we are working to dismantle barriers that keep socially vulnerable kids from outdoor experiences. 

What can you do to get outdoors—and help increase outdoor access for others—this Earth Day? 


  1. Nature and mental health,” 2021. Accessed on 17 March 2022. 
  2. Professional Practice: Health Benefits of Nature,” American Society of Landscape Architects, Accessed on 17 March 2022. 

Camp Fire’s Values Deepen as We Grow

When Camp Fire began in 1910, its values were simply “work, health, love.” As we’ve grown and expanded—and as humans continue to better understand ourselves and how we can help each other thrive—our organizational values have deepened. As part of our efforts to refocus on Camp Fire’s why (growing up is hard!), and to wholeheartedly commit to our mission (we connect young people to the outdoors, to others, and to themselves), we also refreshed our values. 

Our values help guide us. They are anchor points along the way as we work toward a world where all young people thrive and have equitable opportunities for self-discovery, community connection and engagement with nature

Here’s how we live out our mission and vision:  

Camp Fire works to create safe and inclusive environments, so everyone feels welcome. This means committing to equity, diversity, and access (including breaking down structural barriers to accessing our programs), and addressing the impacts of racism, privilege, white supremacy, bias, and anything else that holds us all back from an equitable and just world. 

Learn more about inclusivity: 

Camp Fire learns from and respects our planet. Spending time in nature has proven health and mental health benefits, which is one of the many reasons why we get young people outdoors, no matter where they may be. Nature-based learning is a powerful tool for youth development, and nature can be experienced by anyone, anywhere (even bringing a leaf, or rock, or plant inside). We aren’t just consumers of nature – we conserve, protect and steward our natural resources. 

Learn more about getting outdoors: 

Camp Fire develops supportive cross-generational relationships. Supportive, trained adults are key to our work. We offer guidance and support during each young person’s dynamic journey to become who they want to be. Developmental relationships are the roots that give young people the chance to grow. 

Learn more about prioritizing relationships:

Camp Fire believes one of the best ways to honor the power of young people is to share power with them through meaningful participation and decision-making—in our programs and organizational direction. We respect, honor, seek, amplify, center, and prioritize youth voice; we empower youth; we entrust them with responsibility and authority; we encourage young people to find their spark and lift their voice. 

Learn more about empowering young people:

Camp Fire helps young people (and adults!) know themselves. Self-discovery is an adventure. We invest heavily in training and professional development for the adults who serve our youth, because all young people deserve to be supported by skilled, capable, knowledgeable, supportive adult mentors, and because like the youth we serve, we are on a learning journey as well. Staff, board, volunteers, youth—we are all a community that is growing towards thriving, together

Learn more about learning: 

Camp Fire encourages young people to advocate, organize, and work for change in their communities and beyond. This has been a core value since we were founded in 1910; As an organization and as individuals, we can make an impact now. 

Learn more about taking action: 

Camp Fire has continually adapted and evolved since 1910 to respond to what young people need to thrive. Each local council has the autonomy and flexibility to customize its programming to best support youth, families, and the local communities they serve; because they are the ones best positioned to listen, learn, adapt, and respond to those needs. 

Learn more about responsivity: 

We seek out the newest research, practice every-day innovation, and meticulously measure results—all to help young people thrive in a complex world. We know Camp Fire changes individual lives, families, and communities, so we work to show that data and tell those stories. 

Learn more about making an impact: