Over the past few years, as we’ve continued to navigate COVID-19 and its challenges, we served over 100,000 young people virtually, which is incredible. But now, as we’re able to operate programs in person (and we see growing waitlists for our programs), we’re again able to offer the kind of unique, safe spaces and intentional time that allows for deeper connections – with the outdoors, with others, and with self. That’s why these four core themes emerged as we looked at our program data from the past year across the Camp Fire network (Aug. 2021 – May 2022): relationships, belonging, professional development, and youth voice.
Each section of this report dives into these themes and why they matter. Here is a snapshot:
Cultivating connection is why Camp Fire exists and one of our core values. But specifically, developmental relationships—connections that help us learn, grow, give back and become our best selves—are fundamental to a thriving life. Research shows that young people who have strong developmental relationships are more engaged at school, have higher social-emotional learning skills and are less likely to participate in high-risk activities. We know that healthy webs of developmental relationships also benefit adults, our communities, and all of society.
We all want to belong. For Camp Fire, we see belonging intertwined with wholeness. As part of our definition of thriving, we say:
“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.”1
In order to support young people in developing strong, impactful relationships, we must invest in the adults who work with youth. Our philosophy is that to support a whole child, we must support the whole adult. We provide comprehensive learning opportunities for all staff and volunteers in the Camp Fire network. Child safety has been a big focus over the past few years and will continue to be an area of investment in the years to come.
Camp Fire designs and implements programs that are intentionally aimed at elevating youth voice. Research tells us that by listening to youth, really listening, youth-serving organizations can promote young people’s sense of agency and support them in inciting change. Honoring the power of young people is one of our eight core values and something we put into action: see examples here.
In this report, you will find inspiring stories in each of the sections from a few of our 47 affiliates in 24 states, and what we’re focused on in the future.
Over the past six years, we’ve been able to serve more than 613,000 youth and families across 4,600+ program sites. We seek to grow this number as well as make our programs more accessible and affordable, because growing up is hard and young people are hungry for connection (aren’t we all?). Thank you for your support in this work and fulfilling our vision:
a world where all young people thrive and have equitable opportunities for self-discovery, community connection, and engagement with nature.
Greg Zweber, President & CEO, Camp Fire National Headquarters