Little Kids, Big Impact

The research is undeniable: Early childhood education lays the foundation for lifelong learning, health and well-being. Studies show that sustained, high-quality early childhood education narrows achievement gaps1, improves health outcomes, increases high school graduation rates and is linked to better jobs and higher earnings in adulthood.2 

But access to high-quality early learning opportunities is far from equal! In the U.S., only around half of 3- and 4-year-olds are enrolled in preschool programs.3 Families in higher-income areas tend to have better access to early education programs than those in disadvantaged neighborhoods. And systemic racism limits both the respect and resources available to early childhood educators: Low wages lead to high turnover and challenges finding qualified early educators, with women of color disproportionately doing this critical work. 

In the U.S., only around half of 3- and 4-year-olds are enrolled in preschool programs.

As the Center for American Progress notes, “Despite ongoing oppression and exclusion, women of color—and Black women in particular—have been leaders in the movement for child care, organizing community-led solutions such as family child care networks to fill child care needs in the absence of federal or state support.”4  

At Camp Fire, we are working to expand access to powerful early learning experiences, both by taking early education outdoors and by supporting early childhood educators. While 3% of the youth we served last year were pre-K and 29% were in kindergarten through 2nd grade, our impact on early learners extends beyond direct programming.  

Here are two great examples:  

Taking Early Childhood Education Outdoors 

Catherine Hubbard, Outdoor and Nature Programming Manager for Camp Fire National Headquarters, joined the organization in early 2023. Before joining Camp Fire, Catherine spent 16 years at the Nature School at the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She started as a teacher and ended up as the director of the innovative outdoor-based school. With co-author Pattie Ensel Bailie, Catherine wrote a book based on her experiences there, Partnering with Nature in Early Childhood to help other educators take early childhood learning outside, and she also is developing an online course, “Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Outdoors,” for Camp Fire’s staff and volunteers. 

“Anybody who works with youth at an older age is seeing all of these issues arise—with mental health, emotional health and self regulation—and it’s probably because those foundational skills were skipped.” Catherine

Catherine emphasizes that high-quality early childhood programming lays a foundation of social-emotional skills that makes all other learning possible: “Anybody who works with youth at an older age is seeing all of these issues arise—with mental health, emotional health, and self-regulation—and it’s probably because those foundational skills were skipped,” said Catherine. 

She sees nature as one of our best SEL collaborators. “What I learned through my years at the Nature School is that I’m interested in how nature can be a partner in social-emotional learning (SEL),” said Catherine. Getting very young folks outside aligns with Camp Fire’s three-part vision to connect them to the outdoors, others and themselves.  (More than 40,000 kids of all ages took part in 79 Camp Fire environmental and outdoor programs across the country in our most recent program year!) 

In addition to the obvious nature tie-in, Catherine says that learning outdoors creates more equitable classrooms that enable connection to others. “There’s an endless amount of resources outside if nature is the source of your teaching materials,” said Catherine, comparing limited supplies in indoor spaces to the wealth of natural toys (sticks, sand, pinecones, etc.) and open space outside. “So there’s enough to go around. It creates this sense of community.”  

Learning outdoors also offers opportunities for self-discovery: Young children navigate new environments, solve problems and see themselves as part of a larger ecosystem. “As you’re testing your skills in an environment where you’re free to be yourself, you’re really discovering who you are.” explained Catherine. 

She promotes the power of unstructured outdoor play for early childhood students. “It never works to take a group of 3-year-olds outside and start lecturing them about plants and animals, right?” she laughed. “That is not how they learn. They learn with their whole bodies, and they need to play and wiggle and throw themselves into the mud puddles.” 

“As you're testing your skills in an environment where you're free to be yourself, you're really discovering who you are.” Catherine. 

Catherine said this wisdom isn’t new; it’s just been discounted by those who have viewed early childhood education as “babysitting,” not foundational learning. 

“If you look at the majority of people who teach early childhood, it's Black women. And I think their expertise has been completely dismissed by the larger field of youth-serving organizations and education.

“Early childhood educators have been talking about SEL for a long, long time,” said Catherine. “If you look at the majority of people who teach early childhood, it’s Black women. And I think their expertise has been completely dismissed by the larger field of youth-serving organizations and education. For the past 30 years, they have been centering SEL and saying this is the most important thing. And it’s only now that you have the leaders of think tanks saying this is important.” 

Empowering Early Childhood Educators 

Camp Fire First Texas is doing the opposite of dismissing early educator’s experience: It’s amplifying through their Early Education Workforce Development program.   

Travis Davis, Vice President of the program, said the 20-year effort grew out of a long-time Camp Fire family’s passion for supporting early childhood education, the affiliate’s past experience running an early childhood center (now led by Early Head Start), and Camp Fire First Texas’s role as the area’s child care resource and referral touchpoint.  

“The initial work of Camp Fire First Texas serving as Dallas / Fort Worth’s Child Care Resource and Referral Agency has served us well to meet the needs of early childhood teachers and directors today,” said Travis. 

The Early Education Workforce Development program offers in-person and virtual workshops, an early education apprenticeship program, and Child Development Associate and Child Care Director Administrator credential courses. Travis says they try to offer professional development for people just starting their early childhood careers and those who are looking for more advanced continuing education.  

There’s healthy crossover between the Workforce Development program and other Camp Fire offerings, especially afterschool initiatives. Travis is able to offer afterschool staff continuing education opportunities. 

Most importantly, empowering effective early childhood educators aligns with Camp Fire’s mission, including helping very young children connect to others.  

“At the heart of our work is helping young children have good relationships, both with caregivers, but also with other children in the program,” said Travis. “Then that translates to good relationships with people down the road, too.” 

He cited an Early Learning Alliance study of how Fort Worth kindergarten teachers defined school readiness: Instead of focusing on academic readiness, the teachers were mostly concerned with incoming students’ social-emotional skills, such as getting along with peers, self-regulation and being able to follow simple instructions.  

“At the heart of our work is helping young children have good relationships, both with caregivers, but also with other children in the program,” said Travis. “Then that translates to good relationships with people down the road, too.” 

“That’s what being ready is really all about,” said Travis. “And that comes back to people creating environments where children can feel included and supported. And where adults have the skills they need to help build successful relationships within their program.” 

Starting a lifetime of connection early 

We all need to feel like we belong, whether we’re 2 or 92. And we all need to feel connected to each other.  

“The essential human needs don’t change,” Catherine said. “Really small children, middle-aged people, and really old people all need to feel that they matter. They all need to feel safe and loved. And they all thrive when they have access to the outdoor world. It doesn’t really matter what age you are. It’s just a human need.”  

Find a Camp Fire program near you! 

  1. High-quality early child care and education: The gift that lasts a lifetime,” Brookings. 4 November 2021. Accessed 17 April 2024. 
  1. Early Childhood Education,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed 17 April 2024.  
  1. Enrollment rates of young children,” National Center for Education Statistics. May 2023. Accessed 17 April 2024.  
  1. Data Dashboard: An Overview of Child Care and Early Learning in the United States,” Center for American Progress. 14 December 2023. Accessed 17 April 2024. 

Embrace your own ecosystem

As we get ready for Earth Day, we’re curious how our community is responding to environmental challenges in an everyday way. It’s easy to feel powerless in the face of dire headlines about climate change impacts and the need for huge systemic changes. We started looking for examples of what everyday environmental action could look like…and found Kazumi.  

Kazumi Haag is a fourth-generation Camp Fire participant and a National Youth Advisory Cabinet member. Her dad, Eric, a biologist at the University of Maryland, started Spark Seekers, a Camp Fire group for Kazumi and her friends in College Park when they were grade schoolers. Growing up in Nevada, Eric had joined his sister’s Camp Fire troop because he wanted more outdoor experiences than he was getting in the local Boy Scouts. Eric’s dad (Kazumi’s grandfather) led that Camp Fire group. He was inspired by his mother (Eric’s grandmother and Kazumi’s great-grandmother), who joined Camp Fire in Florida in 1910, the year it began.  

Kazumi grew up hiking and car camping with her family and Camp Fire buddies, but her relationship with the environment deepened when she joined the crew team her freshman year of high school.   

Kazumi & her little sister Michiko volunteering with Camp Fire

Kazumi’s team rows five days a week on the Anacostia River. The Anacostia runs almost nine miles between Prince George County in Maryland and Washington, D.C., where it merges with the Potomac River. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration calls it, “one of the Chesapeake Bay’s most heavily altered and contaminated watersheds.” Contaminates from nearby hazardous waste sites and storm and sewage runoff have challenged the river’s ecosystems for decades. It is illegal to swim in the Anacostia outside of closely monitored special events, and there are multiple warnings against eating the river’s fish.  

“It’s a very polluted river,” said Kazumi. “You’ll come down to the dock to put your boat in the water, and you can’t because there’s so many plastic bottles that it’s like a barricade around the dock. It’s very disheartening, but it’s also made me want to help clean the river and make sure that it gets better.” 

Thanks to the work the Anacostia Watershed Society and the Alice Ferguson Foundation does with the community, Kazumi already understood the environmental issues her local waterway faced. Kazumi had been on river field trips, learned watershed conservation practices, and participated in river clean-up days with her Camp Fire friends.  

Kazumi and two other Camp Fire kids earned volunteer patches on a trash pick up with The National Park Service.

“One time, we went down to this site on the water, but there was no dirt next to the river, it was just packed trash,” remembered Kazumi. “There was just layers of plastic and plastic, almost like sedimentary rock” 

“We filled up 30 30-gallon trash bags, and you couldn’t tell that we did anything,” said Eric. “The trash was sort of like a geological feature. After that, I pick up any piece of plastic I see in the gutter now because I know where it’s going.” 

Kazumi’s crew team has a strict prohibition against plastic bottles and is working to reduce trash at their boathouse. They volunteer to help clean the smaller streams that flow into the Anacostia and plant trees, which help catch trash and filter stormwater runoff.  

Her experiences on the Anacostia sparked Kazumi’s curiosity in conservation paired with human-centered environmental justice. She interns with the OneNature Institute, which “links holistic community well-being and wildlife stewardship.” And she’s also inspired by her mom, Shizuka’s,  work with air quality.  

Next year, she’ll be going to Bates College (beside the much cleaner Androscoggin River) where she’s going to double major in environmental studies and biology. She’s particularly interested in giraffes, whales and whale sharks — big animals, in contrast to the tiny nematodes her dad studies. She credits Camp Fire for introducing her to that initial spark for conservation and a more everyday connection to nature.  

“Camp Fire changed my perspective; it took me from loving animals to wanting to save them,” said Kazumi. “But also Camp Fire helps people just take a breather. Camp Fires helped me and the other kids in our troop see that if you take a second to be outdoors and be at peace, it definitely helps.”  

Eric echoes the importance of understanding the natural systems we live in. “It’s around you all the time if you open your ears to it,” he said, citing neighborhood organizations doing grassroots environmental work, the vast educational resources at state parks, and scientists like Jason Munshi-South, who study wildlife in urban environments. 

Kazumi & her dad Eric at camp fire’s national leadership conference. Kazumi was on a panel with Mertia Irby & Karen Pittman. Left to Right: Greg, CEO of Camp Fire NHQ, Shawna, President of Camp Fire NHQ, Kazumi and her dad, Eric, Merita Irby and Karen Pittman, KP Catalysts

“In Kazumi’s generation, there’s been a groundswell of interest in trying to reverse some of the harm that our modern human world has created for the planet,” said Eric. “There’s opportunities everywhere. In every city, in every county in the United States, there are people concerned about some environmental aspects.” 

This Earth Day, if you’re overwhelmed by the scale of our planet’s environmental problems or struck by waves of climate grief, try going back to basics: Go outside. Look around. Learn one thing about the ecosystem surrounding and supporting you.  

“Just walking outside, even if it’s in your neighborhood, helps you get nature in your life,” said Kazumi. 

Find a Camp Fire program near you.

Camp Fire’s People & Impact: 2022-2023

The desire for connection is something we all feel, but there is an inherent vulnerability tied to it. To connect, we must put ourselves out there in one way or another. Connection doesn’t just happen, and it doesn’t happen “to” us passively — we must take an active role — no matter who we are. Connecting to ourselves, others, and the outdoors takes courage and openness.

Camp Fire aims to be a safe place for all. It is only when that safety exists and youth can “simply be” that real connection and growth is possible (see our holisitic definition of thriving). This is our mission. Over the past program year (Sept. 2022-Aug. 2023), we’ve brought our mission to life through more than 94 in-school and afterschool programs, 79 environmental and outdoor programs, 32 teen leadership programs, forged innovative partnerships, and continued to prioritize and equity and youth voice.

You’ll find in this report the many ways that we continued to learn and grow as an organization. Advancing equity will remain a priority as we move forward as a values-led organization and strive to be relevant to today’s youth and families, meeting the current moment we all find ourselves in.

Our 46 affiliates in 24 states served more than 713,000 youth, adults and families across 5,100+ program sites over the past eight years. Numbers are important, but what really matters are the individual stories of impact at the local level.

We share the following snapshot of Camp Fire’s impact across the country to connect you with the work you make possible. Thank you for being with us on this journey.

Wishing you more courage for more connection,

Greg Zweber, CEO | Camp Fire National Headquarters

Writing Tips, Ideas & Examples for #KidDay

Absolutely Incredible Kid Day® is right around the corner (third Thursday in March)! If you find yourself running a little low on creativity, here are some ideas to help get you started writing/telling a kid in your life why they are absolutely incredible:

+ Try using a different word than incredible: Is your kid amazing? Wonderful? Inspiring? Spectacular? Impressive? Great? Marvelous? Fantastic? What about a more specific characteristic? Is your kid creative? Passionate? Generous? Caring? Determined? Confident? Compassionate? Do they make you smile? Laugh? Proud? Excited? Challenged to think in a different way? Inspired? Energized? There are thousands of ways to express how incredible your kid is. Don’t feel that you have to settle for one word!

+ Use the platform they respond to the most! For a lot of kids, that is social media. Do they love Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, email, or text messages? If you’re on social media, post a photo of the kid you want to praise, and try a caption like this for your post!

  • I’m always so impressed by how hard you work! Your passion inspires me and you teach me how to enjoy life. I am so thankful for you. #KidDay #AIKD
  • You make me proud, not just today, but EVERYDAY! I am so fortunate that you are in my life. Keep being you, because who you are is #incredible! Happy #KidDay! #AIKD

+ An absolutely incredible kids doesn’t have to be your kid. Don’t have kids of your own? Today is still for you! Are you a teacher who knows an incredible student? Are you a volunteer that has been inspired by the generosity of a kiddo you work with? Are you a social worker? A coach? A neighbor? A sibling? Aunt or uncle? How you know your kiddo isn’t important – it’s how they have impacted your life! Let them know you are honored to know them!

+ Stick a note in their lunch box, on their pillow, in their car, or put your AIKD letter/postcard in the mail for them!

That’s not all!

Here are examples that our National Youth Advisory Cabinet put together a few ideas for how to send an encouraging note on #KidDay!

Dear Shiloh,

I think that you are an absolutely incredible kid. You were such a fantastic help as my counselor-in-training last summer. I really admire how hard you worked to make sure that all of our campers learned and had fun. I was especially impressed by how much you grew as a leader during camp. You were great in the beginning, but by the end of camp, you were absolutely fantastic. All of the campers really admired you, and I do too! Keep working hard, and you will continue to accomplish great things. I can’t wait to work with you again next summer!

All the best,

Hey Zach!

I just wanted to take the time to point out what an absolutely incredible kid you are! You are pawsitively a joy to be around with your bright personality and sense of humor. And with your hard work and compassion, you will continue to amaze those around you. Take time to sniff out your spark and learn what makes you the wonderful person you are. It would be catastrophic for you to not to be recognized on absolutely incredible kid day and all other days for your unique spark. Stay positive and enjoy what amazing things are coming your way!


Thank you for being an absolutely incredible kid! Being able to teach you swim lessons this summer was a blast. Seeing you grow and become a better swimmer made it all worthwhile. I hope to see you this summer again. Keep your school work up and have an amazing year.

See you later!

Still need more ideas?

Maybe words aren’t your thing. That’s okay! Paint a picture. Take a photo. Kick a soccer ball around. Choreograph a dance. Program a computer game. Learn something together.

On March 21st, tell your kiddo they are incredible in a way that is truly YOU.

Learn more about #KidDay and join the celebration!

You are curious & thoughtful.
You are creative.
You are curious.

5 Ways to Make a Big Impact for Absolutely Incredible Kid Day®

Here at Camp Fire, every day is about helping kids thrive. But we wanted to take one day a year to really do it BIG. That’s why we started Absolutely Incredible Kid Day® in 1997. Every year on the third Thursday of March, thousands of adults across the country join Camp Fire in lifting up young people…with the power of words.

Yep, words. On March 21, we’re asking for your voice. A few simple words can change the way kids see themselves, their strengths and even their futures.

Here are five ways you can make a big impact this Absolutely Incredible Kid Day®:

  • Match the medium to the kid. Know a YouTube connoisseur? Make a video. A little artist? Draw a picture. An emoji prodigy? Send a text. An enthusiastic conversationalist? Make that phone call. A lover of the written word? Write a letter. Even if it means getting out of your own comfort zone, choose a format that fits the age, habits, and communication style of kid you’re encouraging.
  • Go beyond incredible. Admirable. Amazing. Astonishing. Astounding. Awe-inspiring. Brilliant. Extraordinary. Formidable. Gifted. Impressive. Inventive. Marvelous. Notable. Outstanding. Remarkable. Splendid. Stunning. Super. Talented. Unreal. Wonderful. It doesn’t have to be “incredible.” Send a message that’s as unique as the kid you’re encouraging. And highlight more of who they ARE, not just what they do.
  • Be specific about why they are incredible. Sure, it’s nice to be told you’re incredible. But it’s even better to know the details. Remember that we help kids develop a growth mindset when we praise their effort, strategies and progress. Instead of just saying “You’re incredible,” we can say, “You work really hard to make everyone in your class feel included.” Or “Your diligence in practicing the piano inspires me to keep practicing my own skills, too.” The more specific you are, the more encouragement you’ll give.
  • Make it personal. Why do they matter to you? What difference do they make in your life? What have you learned from them? Is there something you wish someone would have told you at their age that you can pass on? Put some of your own story in the message, and it will mean twice as much.
  • Keep it up. You don’t need to wait for next year to make a kid’s day. Put a reminder on your calendar to follow up on the message you sent in a week or a month. Support from caring adults is a key factor in helping kids thrive. Those few simple words of encouragement on a regular basis can literally change a young person’s life.

Learn more about #KidDay and join the celebration!

You are brave.
You are thoughtful.
You include others.

The Power of Praise

Our partners at On Our Sleeves are experts on youth mental health, so we asked them what advice they have for adults who want to encourage young people for Absolutely Incredible Kid Day® on March 21st.

Whitney Raglin Bignall, PhD, Associate Clinical Director, The On Our Sleeves Movement For Children’s Mental Health and Pediatric Psychologist, Nationwide Children’s Hospital shared her insights about the power of praise and how we can make it a practice.

Whitney Raglin Bignall, PhD

Praise is one of the best techniques when working with kids!

It builds confidence, helps them to know what we like, and can reinforce the behaviors we want to see more. 

The key is “catching” the good stuff, so we can praise and acknowledge it. How do you do it?

1. Start noticing what they’re doing and saying it out loud.

  • “I love that you’re putting your puzzle away.”
  • “It was great to see you sharing your toys with your cousin.”
  • “Thanks for waiting patiently while I was talking with the neighbor.”

2. Be as specific as possible.

  • “Good job” is less meaningful than “I noticed you put your dinner dishes in the dishwasher. Thanks for doing that.”

3. Share praise regularly.

  • It takes about five positive comments to balance out one negative one, so make sure you’re sharing plenty of positive comments and observations.

It’s not a magic wand, but you might be surprised about how powerful praise is when you take the time to give your children some positive attention.

Need more ideas on building up your child’s happiness and mental health? Check out!

The On Our Sleeves Movement For Children's Mental Health

Absolutely Incredible Kid Day® is March 21st!

Every year, millions of people write/tell a young person in their life why they matter and what makes them amazing. Camp Fire founded this holiday in 1997 to encourage and inspire young people nationwide. Learn more at

Your words are powerful. Encourage a young person. Make an impact.

Center Humanity, Honor Identity, Promote Healing & Cultivate Liberation: This Is Transformative SEL

We have talked quite a bit about SEL over the years. This #SELday, Sr. Director of Program Effectiveness, Nikki Roe Cropp, shares more about how we use SEL in our programs and why it is essential to the work we do.

Kids of all races smiling together after finding a turtle

We know that kids who have a certain set of competencies and skills are better able to navigate through challenging times and cope with adversity.  The process in which youth gain these necessary skills and competencies is called social-emotional learning or SEL.  Social-emotional learning is nothing new—teachers, counselors, coaches, and youth workers have been modeling and teaching social and emotional development strategies for a long time.  There are decades of research that illustrates the benefits of SEL for kids both in and out of the classroom.   SEL is infused into Camp Fire’s program framework, making it a cornerstone of the Camp Fire experience.     

SEL has changed over the years.  It was changing before the pandemic as folks implementing it started recognizing that this process of building social and emotional skills needs to be contextualized to different cultures, norms, and priorities. Just as regular teaching has evolved over the years to include more culturally responsive practices, so has SEL. And then during and after the pandemic and racial unrest in our country, SEL had to evolve again—as kids’ needs changed during that time.   

Transformative SEL was born in response to us finally acknowledging the disparities in education and opportunities based on a kid’s socioeconomic status, race, zip code, home language, disability status, and other factors. “Transformative SEL” is a form of SEL implementation where young people and adults build strong, respectful, and lasting relationships to engage in co-learning. It facilitates critical examination of individual and contextual factors that contribute to inequities and calls for collaborative solutions that lead to personal, community, and societal well-being.  It recognizes that youth can be a part of creating just environments now and for the future.  

Today’s young people are primed for Transformative SEL. Search Institute recently reported that youth are more invested today in caring, equality and social justice, cultural competence, and valuing diversity than they were in 2016.   

Graph to the right: Internal comparison of trends between 2020 and 2022 Attitudes & Behaviors Survey aggregate data 

Graph showing the increase in SEL competencies for young people since 2016. Caring: 58% to 67%, Equality & Social Justice: 60% - 73%, Cultural Competence: 45% - 59%, Valuing Diversity: 60% - 72%

We know that empathy and compassion are not enough to advance equity.  At Camp Fire, we employ practices and programming that center humanity, honor identity, promote healing and liberation, and build skills needed to act and advocate for social justice.   This is Transformative SEL in action!

Want to read more about SEL and Camp Fire? Check out Building Equity with Social Emotional Learning (SEL).

#KidDay: An invitation to connection

Every third Thursday in March, Camp Fire celebrates Absolutely Incredible Kid Day®, a holiday dedicated to encouraging the amazing young people in our lives. Since we founded it in 1997*, millions of people have marked #KidDay with messages to their favorite younger folks, telling them why they matter.  

It’s our annual invitation to intentional connection. So we’ve been thinking about how we can align our #KidDay efforts with what children and teens need from us now. Our National Youth Advisory Cabinet has been sharing what kinds of messages mean the most to them.   

We were also inspired by Stephanie Malia Krauss’s recent presentation at our National Leadership Conference. Her book Whole Child, Whole Life had so much applicable connection wisdom, we wanted to ask how to apply it to #KidDay encouragement this year.  

Stephanie’s own growing-up challenges made her curious about what it takes for kids to thrive. It’s a question she has explored throughout her professional life as an educator, coach, social worker, consultant, and author.  

“I dropped out of school soon after the eighth grade, but ended up in college at 16,” Stephanie said. “And I would wonder what I had that made me ready because I didn’t have an excellent childhood, excellent standardized test scores, or any of the typical success measures.”  

Stephanie Malia Krauss, Whole Child, Whole Life

What she did have was what researcher Jonathan Zaff called “a web of support,” including a middle school counselor who continued supporting her after she dropped out and consistent, practical care from coaches, friends’ parents, and bosses. Stephanie’s work now bridges that kind of frontline, community-led support with addressing the systemic barriers that keep kids from the futures they want. And connection is at the heart of it all.  

“What we know from the research is that being known and understood is one of the most tender and transformative experiences we can have,” said Stephanie. “And that magic connection of relationship ends up helping both the kid and the grown-up at the same time.” 

Here are five opportunities for deeper connection Stephanie suggested for #KidDay:  

1. Be curious about the differences in your growing-up experiences 

“The lived experience of today’s kids is significantly different from our own,” Stephanie said. “We know from the science that we’re wired and rewired based on our environments and experiences.” 

To create richer connections with young people, adults can check ourselves for assumptions we might be making and get curious about kids’ realities.  

Stephanie shared that her sons (ages 13 and almost 11) have been able to experience a “range of wonders,” including travel, an “eclectic” family, and chances to explore their passions, including athletics, art, and Lego. They also endured a pandemic, complex health issues and witnessed their godbrother survive and recover from a brutal school shooting. Their worries aren’t the same ones Stephanie had as a child.  

by climbing a tree

“It’s important for us to honor and recognize the reality of what kids have lived through and the strength and struggle that brings,” said Stephanie. “There’s something deeply profound in honoring their emerging, evolving stories.” 

Try it: This #KidDay, ask a young person what they love the most about being young right now. Then ask them what worries them.  

2. Listen first 

“Conversations about kids need to start with kids,” said Stephanie, whose most recent book opens with a preface written by her son.  

Stephanie described a recent listening and learning session she facilitated for a high school in Hawaii. Caregivers, teachers, coaches and counselors were invited to sit on the periphery of the circle while students were in the middle with Stephanie, sharing their thoughts on mental health, relationships and their hopes for the future. 

“The job of the grown-ups was to listen,” said Stephanie. “Those kinds of practices with groups and individuals can be really powerful, so long as trust is present and safety is held at the center.”   

two kids at afterschool program smiling at the camera together

Whether you’re holding a formal or informal listening session of your own, centering the voices of young people is a powerful statement of support. You can encourage them without saying a single word. 

Try it: Leading up to #KidDay, ask a young person how they want to be encouraged. Then follow their direction!  

3. Go beyond transactional to transformational 

Stephanie outlined five pieces to getting to know a whole child. The first three are the baseline need-to-knows for adults who are working with or caring for a young person:  

  • Demographics and determinants: What risks and opportunities do young people experience based on what they look like and where they live? 
  • Age and stage: What does the child need developmentally right now? 
  • Brain and body: How does the child’s health affect their life? 

“I could know all that information, but still not create the conditions where a child feels cared for,” said Stephanie.  

She described the first three categories as transactional — things an adult needs to know to do the basics of their youth-related job, whether that’s teaching, providing services, mentoring or caregiving. But the last two categories are the ones that can transform information into true relationship:  

  • People and places: Who are the people in the child’s life? Where do they spend time together? What is the child-like with those people and in those places? 
  • Strengths and struggles: What makes the child come alive and what shuts them down?  
the girls at camp holding and petting a cat

“If we can earnestly and honestly pursue those pieces, that’s when connection comes,” said Stephanie.  

Try it: Ask a young person where their favorite place is or who their favorite people are. Can you help arrange a #KidDay gathering or outing to celebrate those people or places? 

4. Recognize you’re part of a relationship web 

Stephanie is a fan of psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner, who helped develop the Head Start program. She paraphrased one of his main tenets: Every kid needs one adult who thinks they are the greatest of all time. But they also need a whole network of people who are showing up and offering everyday support.  

You don’t need to be every kid’s Biggest Fan, but you can be a consistent source of positivity for a wide range of young people in your life. There will always be kids you don’t gel with. Stephanie said that’s ok: You can treat all kids with care and help connect them to adults they may relate to better. 

“We don’t have to be all things to all kids, all the time,” said Stephanie. “But we can strive to create the conditions that are optimal for whatever relationship needs to emerge.”  

group of girls smiling and laughing together in front of the camera

Try it: Do you know a young person who needs a mentor…who isn’t you? Use #KidDay as an excuse to make an introduction!  

5. Value the mundane moments 

Stephanie reminds adults that they often don’t know the impact they are having. For Whole Child, Whole Life, she interviewed David Shapiro, former CEO of MENTOR, about what he learned during his time there.  

“One of the things he said was never underestimate the power of a mundane moment,” remembered Stephanie. “What might be boring for you, may not be for the kid in your care. And that’s not for you to decide.” 

Stephanie encourages adults and kids to find ways to just be humans together, whenever you can. 

Boy holding ice cream and smiling big, holding up a peace sign with their hand

“The quality of connection is far more important than the quantity of time,” Stephanie said. “Our life is a string of moments and experiences. Do not undervalue the power of those moments, even if they’re periodic.” 

Try it: The next time you’re doing chores, driving between activities, or having another mundane moment with a kid in your life, let them know you like doing the everyday stuff with them and why.  

LEARN MORE about how you can participate in #KidDay2024! 

*#KidDay coincides with Camp Fire’s birthday – this year we turn 114 years old! 

Protect Trans* Kids: Remembering Nex Benedict

We are grieving with our community, and across the U.S., the tragic death and loss of Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary student who was assaulted and beaten by fellow students at Owasso High School after weeks of bullying; Nex died the next day on February 8th. This should never have happened. 

In this post, Illuminative well-captured the devastating stats about the lack of safety and high suicide rates that impact our 2SLGBTQ+ young people, just like Nex (learn more here at the Trevor Project). Camp Fire has long supported and affirmed all 2SLGBTQ+ young people and works to create spaces where all young people feel safe and can thrive. In fact, we just published a new study about “the impact of both physical spaces and psychological conditions that allow youth “to just be,” with an emphasis on identity and gender-affirming practices for transgender and non-binary young people,” because we KNOW how much it matters for all adults and organizations to CREATE these spaces. They don’t just happen.

Nex Benedict

We must come together and support one another – especially our 2SLGBTQ+ youth. Our young people should never live in fear. They need us.

Members of Camp Fire Green Country plan to be at Nex’s vigil Sunday evening ❤️

Please be aware of and share these important lifesaving resources:

  • Trans Lifeline: 877-565-8860 (Staffed by transgender folks, for transgender folks; toll-free)
  • The Trevor Project Hotline: 866-488-7386 (Available 24/7; with counselors trained in supporting LGBTQ youth)
  • Rainbow Youth Project: 988 or call (317) 643-4888 (Crisis line)
  • Native Crisis Text line: Text NATIVE to 741741 (Available 24/7; text support provided by crisis counselors)

Follow on IG:

a wish for Igbtqia+ youth
may you grow old surrounded
by family of your choosing. may you live to experience true love, true heartbreak and all the beautiful feelings in-between. may you laugh until tears of joy gently sting your warm cheeks. may you dance, long and often.
You are not alone.
You are valid.
Your life matters.
Nex Benedict should still be alive.

Heartbreak and Horror: Resources to Talk to Kids About Gun Violence and When the News is Scary

Written by: Erin K Risner, Parent, Kansas City Resident and Sr. Director of Marketing & Communications

I’m not only a Kansas City area resident and a youth development professional, but I’m also a mom of two who watched online as the horror of yesterday’s shooting unfolded in my own community. Nine children were treated for gunshot wounds.

I will be honest and say I didn’t sleep and I can’t seem to get rid of this sick feeling in my stomach. I also had to talk to my third grader about it before school this morning. What a nightmare.

But I know I’m not alone; not only am I one of millions who are also devastated and struggling today, but as I sit at my computer, fellow parents and residents across the city who were there in person yesterday are grappling–especially those directly impacted.

I don’t have to tell you how devastating gun violence is on our communities and the effects it has on young people. We pulled up this post we published in May 2022 expressing our grief after the shooting in Uvalde, TX, which was one of 644 mass shootings that year. Then, 2023 had 656 mass shootings. In the first two months of 2024, there have been 49 mass shootings. The gun violence at the Kansas City parade started between individuals but ended in mass casualties. When will it stop?

We are all connected. Our care and response matters. At Camp Fire, “We are responsive” is one of our eight core values and something we take seriously, especially when it comes to looking out for the health, safety, and well-being of young people–our number one priority. Youth can’t learn, grow, and thrive if they don’t feel safe.  

It is important that in moments like this, we take time to sit with our emotions, care for each other, and let the shock and grief transform into action. When we allow ourselves space to feel all our emotions, our minds can begin to clear and we can move forward with clear, effective action while avoiding causing more harm.

I hope you have taken the time to check in with yourself, your families, friends, and your coworkers. We need each other.

Find some resources below for you and the young people in your life as you process and cope with the tragedies in our communities, across our country, and beyond borders. 

How to talk to your kids when the news is scary:

Image of the resource

How to talk about gun violence:

Image of the Resource

Here are some other good pieces of advice I came across today:

Places to take action:

From the Children's Place: Our community witnessed an unthinkable even today. As we're attempting to understand this senseless act, these are things we must or for our children.
From the Children's Place: Turn off the TV: Children do not need to be exposed to the details.
From the Children's Place: Move and action are the most healing act. Take a walk together, have a dance party, plat catch with a ball. This will help both you and your child release the tension.
From the Children's Place: Answer the questions they ask, but don't over-explain. Do take the opportunity to correct inaccuracies. It's okay to say "I don't know."
From the Children's Place: Listen more than you talk. Give your child the opportunity to share what they're thinking and how they are feeling.
From the Children's Place: Acknowledge their feelings and assure them that they are now safe and that you will work to protect them.