Like we’ve talked about on the blog before, Camp Fire is actively and intentionally becoming an equity-focused organization. All of our five 18-month goals are directly related to equity.

Why? Not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because we’ve seen how centuries of unaddressed economic injustice and structural racism has made it hard for so many to reach their full potential. 

Camp Fire kids deserve better. All kids deserve better. And equity is better. We know this at a gut level, but the positive youth development research backs up our own ethical compasses. 

According to the Search Institute, when young people experience strong developmental relationships and equitable environments, their social-emotional skills thrive. In fact, among students who rate their school and/or youth program as highly equitable, 65 percent self-report high social-emotional skills, compared to only 38 percent of students who say their schools and/or programs aren’t very equitable. The same pattern follows with developmental relationships: Students who had said they had strong relationships with supportive adults were more likely to have high social-emotional competencies. 

Complementary research—from organizations like the National Equity Project and the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL)—shows that social-emotional learning (SEL) can help build equity, too. (What’s social-emotional learning? Here’s a quick refresher.) 

The good goes all ways: Increasing equity leads to better social-emotional outcomes. Developmental relationships help create equitable environments and build social-emotional skills. And Social Emotional Learning leads to better equity practices.  Camp Fire’s equity goals aren’t separate from Camp Fire’s core SEL program framework—our Camp Fire Journey—or our commitment to building strong, supportive relationships between adults and young people. They are inextricably tied together.

Camp Fire’s approach to SEL and developmental relationships supports our equity and antiracism goals in several ways: 

  • SEL creates identity-safe environments where young people can bring their whole selves and feel valued. Everyone is welcome. At Camp Fire, young people and adult staff and volunteers are free to celebrate their authentic identities and unique gifts. 
  • SEL teaches young people to use their voices, trust themselves and take action. In Camp Fire, young people develop the skills necessary to create a more just and equitable world.
  • Adult champions are trained to understand the impacts of racism, inequality, prejudice, and stereotypes on young people’s ability to learn and thrive.
  • We treat families and communities as stakeholders, leaders and assets to our work. 
  • SEL is a field-in-progress. Camp Fire acknowledges that most SEL standards are rooted in Eurocentric norms: We know we can’t dismantle white supremacy without acknowledging we are immersed in it. We are always working to improve and avoid any potential SEL equity pitfalls.
  • SEL can give us a way to connect and heal. CASEL just shared in their latest newsletter: Unpack our nation’s headlines and you’ll find an urgent call for social and emotional learning. Our community is still reeling from the pandemic, the tumultuous election, the violent attack on the Capitol, and more. SEL gives us a way forward, a way to connect and to heal. During times like these, we rely on our social and emotional competencies to help us rebuild and strengthen our relationships, work together to examine issues and create solutions, and ultimately heal as individuals and as a nation.”

At Camp Fire, SEL, developmental relationships and equity initiatives work together to deliver on our promise—to give all kids the opportunity to find their sparks, lift their voices and discover who they are. 

“At Camp Fire, we take a whole-child approach by intentionally creating the environment, experiences, and relationships needed to ignite potential in every youth participant,” says Shawna Rosenzweig, Camp Fire’s chief strategy officer. ”We recognize every young person deserves the opportunity to pursue their passions, embark on a journey of self-discovery, and is capable of developing essential skills and mindsets that have long term benefits and make a positive societal impact.”