Letter from Camp Fire’s CEO Greg Zweber: Reflecting on 2020, Hope for 2021
Like many of you, we have not only been responding to COVID-19 since March but have also been trying to understand ourselves in the current moment.
“What is the current reality demanding of us as a leader?”
Bianca J. Baldridge challenged our network with this question during our national virtual CEO Summit conference in October.
We believe in the intrinsic value, dignity, and worth of every person. That is what drives us in our work as a youth-serving organization, and that is the lens from which we make all of our decisions.
The past few years we have been discussing Camp Fire’s history and use of native culture with the lens of cultural appropriation, and talking more about diversity, equity and inclusion. But like many, this year was a catalyst to get our priorities in order.
Baldridge said we are amidst multiple pandemics: not just coronavirus, but also systemic racial and economic injustice, and state violence. And although it felt new to many of us after George Floyd’s murder, waking up in horror for the first time, anti-black racism was and is not new, family separation was/is not new, economic injustice was/is not new. And the global health pandemic has disproportionately impacted our Black, Native American, and Latine communities. And we can’t separate these realities from our work and the world in which we operate. Our young people are in it.
Camp Fire youth have spoken up and made it clear that they want us to acknowledge and address these realities, these multiple pandemics. Young people are asking us for brave leadership.
And so it is for all of these reasons we have taken the following actions this year:
This year, our 50 councils in 25 states and D.C. responded to COVID-19 by providing quality programs in the form of emergency childcare for essential workers, food distribution programs, a Camp-in-a-Box (focused on environmental education) that allowed youth to get a physical box in the mail while joining the program virtually, family resources and activities, and other virtual programs. Some of these creative virtual programs led by Camp Fire staff include a Dungeons & Dragons club, and virtual movie nights and game nights. Youth and their families have been so grateful for these opportunities to connect, have fun, and feel supported by caring adults during a hard, ever-changing year.
We expanded our existing Statement of Inclusion to include abilities and disabilities, gender identities and expressions, citizenship and immigration status, and religion and non-religion: 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, citizenship or immigration status, religion and non-religion, and any other category people use to define themselves or others.
We added our personal pronouns to our email signatures because Camp Fire actively welcomes our transgender and non-binary co-workers, young people, volunteers, and donors. Sharing our personal pronouns affirms our belief that every individual has the right to define their own identity. This is another small step in our long tradition of inclusivity. Using names our youth choose for themselves is not new in Camp Fire. We’ve been doing it for over 100 years! https://campfire.org/pronouns/
We created an Equity in Programs Task Force that included multiple internal and external stakeholders, including alumni, youth, experts in youth development, people from other youth organizations, and members of indigenous communities. They came together to explore Camp Fire programs, curriculum, practices, and the word WoHeLo (which stands for Work-Health-Love) with the lens of cultural appropriation and to determine where it lives within our organization. The result was a full report that made recommendations for responsibly rectifying cultural appropriation and where we need to do further exploration. They wrapped up their work and shared their findings in October. Addressing this is one of our core strategic goals and we plan to share more on this topic in the near future.
The organization underwent a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) audit from The Mouse & the Elephant in Fall 2019. In 2020, the national staff underwent four months of DEI training (July – October) and executive leadership continues to receive 1:1 coaching through June 2021.
In June we launched the Belong Here training course for councils. After completing courses, councils will earn a badge that shows their programs are a safe space that confidently affirm and support LGBTQ+ youth.
We developed a new strategic plan that encompasses all of these values. First, we held four different Town Halls with specific audiences: Camp Fire CEOs and board members, program staff, marketing and development staff, and youth to provide direction as we began our organizational strategic planning. Second, we created a Strategic Planning Task Force made up of different stakeholders across the organization nationally (including youth) to determine our Five-Year Vision and top strategic goals for January 2021 – July 2022 (18 months). With the goal to become an equity-focused organization that leans into nature, youth voice, and DEI, our topline goals include:
- Advance diversity, equity, inclusion and access
- Engage in actively antiracist practices
- Address and end cultural appropriation
- Honor the power of young people with meaningful participation in decision-making
- Promote environmental stewardship and action
When it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion, there is more work to be done, and it will never be finished. We are committed, not only because we believe it is right, but because it is what our young people are asking us to do, and we believe if we are to be truly inclusive, welcoming, and best serve today’s youth and families—it has to be done.
We recognize we will not always get it right. But we are committed to doing it with grace, and without shaming anyone. We invite you to join us on the journey and in this process.
This is a key moment to listen – especially to young people. It’s an opportunity for us to strengthen youth-adult partnerships, support young people, and collaborate with them amidst multiple pandemics. And so we move forward with joy and excitement, our feet firmly planted in this work, and for the sole purpose of lifting up all young people: so they can thrive.
Thank you for your support. If you’d like to participate in our future and sustainability, please consider donating $21 to our #Hopefor2021 fundraiser.
Wishing you Work-Health-Love,