But what does belonging feel like?

Creating belonging is a moral good, sure, but sometimes we need to take a second to remember just how good belonging feels. When have you experienced the power of belonging? 

We talk a lot about belonging at Camp Fire. It’s woven into our values. (We are inclusive. We work to create safe and inclusive environments, so everyone feels welcome.) It’s an important goal of our Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Access (DEIA) work. And it doesn’t just happen – it’s intentionally cultivated and worth celebrating! So this month, we’re sharing three powerful stories of belonging from our community. Grab your favorite beverage, curl up in the hammock, and meet Malachi, Leo, and Kim…

Malachi’s Story 

Camp Fire Central Puget Sound  

As told by his mom, Whitney 

Malachi is a medically-complex, non-speaking, wheelchair user. He loves music and dancing. He participates in a weekly drum circle. He loves books and having books read to him. He LOVES camping and exploring new places.  

Malachi Riding Bikes Camping in Nashville - March 2023

I registered my son Malachi for Camp Fire as soon as he turned five. What drew us most to Camp Fire was the inclusive nature and principled mission of the organization. 

A top priority in identifying the best youth programs for our family is to find those that are inclusive and value accessible participation and flexibility. It was important to our family, too, that “disability” identity was specifically called out in the organization’s Statement of Inclusion, that the group was committed to accessibility in their programming, and that a virtual pathway to participation was available. 

In our family, we believe that we are all always learning and improving in matters of diversity, equity and inclusion. We want Malachi’s identity as a Disabled person to be celebrated and for his unique perspective to be valued. We wanted him to be part of a group that welcomes and celebrates youth of all genders and members from other backgrounds, cultures and experiences. That commitment to inclusion, coupled with an honest curiosity and willingness to learn and grow together, was an essential factor for us in choosing a youth development organization for him. 

Malachi is registered with Central Puget Sound Council of Camp Fire as an Independent Member, giving him access to all of the same curriculum and resources as any group, along with the ability to participate in special events of his choosing, while maximizing the flexibility of his participation to accommodate both his access needs and our family’s frequent travel and outdoor adventures. As an Independent Member, I get to support Malachi all along the way, as he works through his Starflight curriculum and begins earning emblems for his learning goals and achievements. We are thrilled to be part of the Camp Fire program and look forward to watching our little guy grow and learn along the way. 

Malachi and family

Leo’s Story 

Camp Fire Camper 

My first time at camp was in 2018. It wasn’t just my first time to go to a Camp Fire camp, it was my first time to go to any camp. But I felt it was the year to try because it was the first time Camp Fire was offering the LGBTQ+ session. At first, I was a little nervous, but by the end of the week, I had done things I had never tried before (like rappelling and kayaking) and met people who shared the same experiences without any judgment. 

I returned to camp the next summer and was excited to attend for a longer time. I wanted more of the experiences of the previous summer. Now that I was past the nervousness, I wanted to spend more time learning the other water activities and go rappelling again. Unfortunately, because of flooding I couldn’t repel again, but that was all the more reason to come to camp again. That year I also made more connections, and the friendships were ones I kept in contact with over the next year, which turned out to be more important than I imagined. 

When COVID shut everything down, it was some of those friendships that I leaned on. You can also imagine my disappointment when camp shut down in 2020. It was a long year! In 2021, my brother and I returned to camp. I was so excited to be back. Camp is a place where you can learn new things, really be yourself, meet amazing people, and know the counselors are there to help you along the way. 

When I was younger, I lost my sense of self for a while. Because of Camp Fire, I have re-found my confidence, become more social, and can see myself in this world. My Camp Fire story is going to keep going as this summer I will be returning as a camp counselor, and my brother is starting his Counselor-In-Training program. I remember what that first summer felt like and all that I have gained from camp, and I want everyone who comes to have the same incredible experience. 

Kim’s Story 

Camp Fire Alaska Parent 

As an adult black woman with a young black daughter, I wanted to make sure my child was seen and having a positive experience at Camp Fire. I grew up here in Alaska, and I know what it feels like to be one of few, to feel different, to go out of the way to be seen. That was my experience. The instructors and educators who saw me made a world of difference in my life at a time where it was so crucial to my development and positive self-image. 

About three weeks in, I just asked her: Do you like Camp Fire? And she said no. I looked at her in the rearview mirror, and she said: I love it. As time went on she shared with me more about the friends she was making, funny conversations she was having with camp counselors because she’s an only child and also enjoys adult conversation, and her new love for swimming – another one of those activities I could never quite get her to take an interest in. She actually asked for swimming lessons! 

And that’s not all she asked for. She asked to go back to Camp Fire next summer, and that’s what we plan to do. We found Camp Fire to be a place rich with diversity of life experience, race, gender, ethnicity, ability, geographic location – so much more that was a plus for my family. We value diversity. Camp Fire impressed me on so many levels: their obvious commitment to the happy development of young children, helping to prepare parents who are new to their programs, and their very clear efforts toward diversity and inclusion. That doesn’t happen by chance. It has happened because Camp Fire has been thoughtful and because they select and prepare great people as part of their staff.  

I know my child is in good hands, and for that I am grateful. I consider myself among the many ambassadors for this organization who has nurtured our precious future leaders and done it so well, for so long. Thank you, Camp Fire. 

Learn more about Camp Fire’s commitment to belonging:  

Creating a Just Organization Through Distributed Leadership: A conversation with LaSheé Thomas and Nikki Roe Cropp

Originally posted by Shawna Rosenzweig May 10, 2023

I believe anyone can lead from anywhere in an organization. Actual leadership has little to do with title or position and more to do with influence. At Camp Fire, our definition of leadership and shared power also includes young people in the decision-making process AND a distributed leadership model that goes beyond the individual. Enter Just HQ. 

At Camp Fire National Headquarters, Just HQ is a voluntary, employee-led group of leaders focused on championing the inclusive, equity-driven organizational culture and learning environment we want and seek. Just HQ does this through leading biweekly Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access (DEIA) staff meetings on different relevant topics, facilitating reflection and intentional conversation, inviting guest speakers (most recent was someone from the Anti-Defamation League to talk to us about Antisemitism), touching on a ‘This Day in History’, actionable Land Acknowledgment, conducting regular culture surveys, and helping keep us accountable to our values. This grassroots initiative makes a positive difference to all of our employees, affiliates, and the youth and families we serve. By creating the conditions where employees and staff feel safe and supported to learn, lead, and thrive, they are, in turn, strengthening the ecosystem that offers youth the same conditions. We know DEIA doesn’t just happen, and Just HQ is a way for us to intentionally prioritize it and bake this value into our culture and organization. We are all on a continual learning journey.

I had a great conversation with two Just HQ members and leaders, Nikki Roe Cropp and LaSheé Thomas, who are working toward a better culture at Camp Fire. We talked about their experience so far on the small but mighty team and what they are learning individually and as a group. 


Shawna: For those who aren’t familiar with Just HQ, could you share what it is and why you wanted to be a part of it?

Nikki: Just HQ was formed to champion an engaged, positive organizational culture and to move us forward in our diversity, equity, and inclusion work. We believe that they are very much intertwined.

LaSheé: I would add that Just HQ is staff-led, so you get all of these voices at the table from multiple levels in the organization. That was extremely important to me and one of the reasons I volunteered to join. I have a strong personal belief that the more voices at the table, the better. 

Nikki: Compared to other staff engagement committees I’ve been a part of at other organizations, this feels more meaningful. It’s more than having a hot dog day to show appreciation for staff. We are truly working on culture–increasing trust, sense of belonging, decision-making, and communication among our staff. 

Shawna: I think it’s a strength that C-suite leaders are not on Just HQ. There is no one who is a de facto leader because of their title. Everyone leads. Can you talk a bit about how that works?

Nikki: We aren’t really prescriptive about who does what, but we do know what jobs need to be done and take turns doing them. For me, since I am a manager, I try to hang back and give other members the opportunity to lead in that way. I try to listen more than I talk. 

LaSheé: Our process is the definition of collaborating. There is conversation and figuring it out together. I get to do things with Just HQ that I normally wouldn’t do in my regular role. We allow people to do what they desire to do even if it doesn’t match their job role. 

Nikki: We spent a lot of time in the beginning talking about how we wanted to function together as a team and how we wanted our meetings to go. 

LaSheé: On this committee, we’re all learning as we go. We’re learning together.

Shawna: I’m curious, what has been the most challenging part of your work on Just HQ? 

LaSheé: I ask myself whether we (Just HQ) are doing enough to allow people to push themselves to the next level of equity work, not just attending meetings and taking in information. I want to be sure that we are taking equity work to the next level.


Nikki: I agree with what LaSheé said. We know that everyone has to own our culture–this team is here to champion that. So, while we want 100% of the staff to feel like they belong and feel included, we’re not at 100% yet. We have to keep figuring out what’s not working and why and keep trying to improve. We also need to keep lines of communication open with the rest of Camp Fire staff and learn from feedback about the education we are offering so our discussions can stay productive.  

LaSheé: I would add that we need to know our limits as a group. There are areas where we have to seek outside assistance to be able to provide the information staff needs in a particular area of equity. Even though there are multiple voices at the Just HQ table, there are still voices missing. 

Shawna: A standard part of your meeting agenda is reviewing Camp Fire norms and values. Can you talk a little about why you do that?

LaSheé: We feel like leading with those is an important way to hold ourselves and each other accountable to what we collectively believe and want to accomplish. It’s turned into an opportunity for staff to affirm each other for acting out those values. Team members give shout-outs to each other for things like exhibiting strong trust and collaboration. 

Nikki: We regularly check in on the values and make sure that they are still relevant to the culture we want and seek. That is part of the process, to make sure we’re staying on the same page.


Shawna: Are there other parts of Just HQ we haven’t talked about yet? 

LaSheé: We have optional book clubs and podcast discussion groups that give people a casual way to connect over certain topics and broaden thinking by considering perspectives from outside the organization. 

Nikki: We borrowed a framework from Christopher Littlefield that encourages teams to learn and grow, laugh and play, rest and rejuvenate, celebrate and appreciate, and connect and reflect together. We use that framework as a guide to make sure we’re staying balanced. 

Shawna: With a team that’s spread across the country, it’s so important to connect and see people as whole people. 

Shawna: What advice do you have for someone who wants to start a group like Just HQ in their organization?

LaSheé: I would encourage them to be clear and honest about what the organization is already doing to advance equity because if that work has not already started, it will be a lot harder. And allow teams, not leaders, to set parameters around what the team might look like. Staff have a closer view to what’s happening on the ground and this process allows those voices to be heard when they might not otherwise be.

Nikki: We don’t want a top-down structure, but leadership does have to be committed to the work in order for it to be successful. We’re able to do what we do because our leadership prioritizes the work.  

Shawna: How has your experience at Camp Fire changed because of your involvement with Just HQ?

LaSheé: I have never been in a role where I am leading or presenting anything, ever. Being a part of Just HQ has allowed me to be in that role and combat my fear of public speaking and present to my peers on topics I’ve researched. It’s allowed me to be more comfortable speaking and leading. It has allowed those walls to come down. I still get nervous but I am not afraid anymore. Instead, I’m proud of the things I’ve learned, researched, and presented.

Photo of LaShee with text of her quote (text that came before this image)

Shawna: How has your experience at Camp Fire changed because of your involvement with Just HQ?

LaSheé: I have never been in a role where I am leading or presenting anything, ever. Being a part of Just HQ has allowed me to be in that role and combat my fear of public speaking and present to my peers on topics I’ve researched. It’s allowed me to be more comfortable speaking and leading. It has allowed those walls to come down. I still get nervous but I am not afraid anymore. Instead, I’m proud of the things I’ve learned, researched, and presented.

Nikki: I am generally happier, more productive, and more motivated in my job because of my involvement with Just HQ.  It’s energizing to be a part of something that is truly making a difference to how we function and work together.  My hope is that this effort outlasts my time at the organization–that there will always be a committee dedicated to this important pursuit. 

Photo of Nikki with text of her quote (text is in body below)

Shawna: How has your definition of leadership changed as part of your experience on Just HQ? 

Nikki: For me, I have gotten fulfillment in seeing others on the team grow in their leadership. It’s more satisfying for me to watch others lead and leverage what power I have to advocate for this group. I now measure my leadership in terms of how each individual on the team feels empowered to create change. 

LaSheé: I have a hard time with the concept of leadership. While I believe everyone can be a leader, I have struggled to define what it means for me personally. But I think that has changed. I have been able to say to myself, “you are leading the values of this organization” which is a quality of leadership. Even if that makes me feel uncomfortable, it is allowing me to step back and see leadership qualities in myself that I have not been able to see before working with the Just HQ committee. I would encourage other organizations to think about those employees that are not as vocal and to prioritize bringing voices to the table that are otherwise not heard.

Shawna: I’m struck by how many important leadership lessons I’m hearing from you two today, like sitting in the discomfort, sharing power, designing from the margins, progress over perfection…all of those things that are pivotal for individuals and organizations that are committed to equity. Just HQ hasn’t been around that long but it’s already changed the org culture and the ways that people are showing up. It’s really quite remarkable. With that, I’ll end with saying thank you for all that you do for the organization, for the team, and for each of us as individuals on our own journeys!

How to Have a Hard Conversation

Camp Fire Alabama

Conflict isn’t fun. Hard conversations can feel like a gut-punch, so most of us do everything we can to avoid them. But in the end, avoidance isn’t good for us, or our relationships.

The good news? There are healthy ways to handle conflict and hard conversations. Anyone can learn them. None of us will become experts overnight, but we can start now to learn how to have better conversations…and better conflict resolution. (Remember that growth mindset!)

Like we teach our Camp Fire youth, not every hard conversation will turn out perfectly with everyone will happy in the end. But if we strive to approach discussing problems in the best possible way, there is a high percentage the interaction will go well, and everyone will benefit!

Here’s what we can do to set ourselves up for hard conversation success:

1. First of all, be genuine when you approach someone. Let them know that things are about to get real! You might even ask up front, “Can we talk for a little bit? I have something really important I need to share with you.” When you sit down to talk, you could say, “This is hard for me to bring up, and I’m not sure exactly how it will come out but I want to ask for your patience and grace as I try to explain how I’ve been feeling…”

2. Go into the conversation with positive intentions. Resolve to listen, hear the other side, say what you need to say and reach a good ending.

3. As you continue the conversation, keep that end goal in mind. You want to resolve this conflict in a healthy way! That means it matters how you get there and how you express yourself.

Always try to be:

  • Kind, even if you’re upset
  • Thoughtful and intentional in your word choices… words are powerful!
  • Calm while using a matter-of-fact tone of voice
  • Respectful
  • Focused on how YOU feel, not accusatory. Don’t say “You do X, or you never do Y…” Say “I feel like X, and it seems like Y to me…”
  • Genuine and true to you!

Getting things off your chest in a healthy way is a truly beautiful thing, especially as honor yourself and how you feel. Go into hard conversations seeking the best for the person you’re talking with, and for yourself. Try to stay humble. No one has all the answers or knows it all, and all of us makes mistakes.

See our new infographic on 11 Tips for Better Conflict Resolution for even more ideas. And don’t worry, this takes practice and diligence! And with your practice comes wisdom, maturity, and more successful hard conversations.

You can do it! Good luck.

Camp Fire Transforms Youth Into Powerful Peacemakers

Camp Fire Orca in Tacoma, Washington.

Can you feel it? In the past several years, our culture seems to have hit new highs…or lows…when it comes to division, hostility, and opposition.

While we see constant conflict take its toll globally, we also know how interpersonal problems can do serious damage in our kids’ and teens’ lives. From bullying to academic trouble to depression, conflict on a micro-scale quickly causes big problems.

That’s why Camp Fire has been working on a comprehensive Conflict Resolution curriculum, launching nationwide in early 2018. It began in partnership with the University of Kansas School of Social Work in 2011. Working with 11 underserved schools in the Kansas City district, Camp Fire Heartland collaborated with educators, counselors, kids, and parents to develop super-useable conflict resolution tools. The response has been overwhelmingly positive.

The curriculum helps kids build their peacemaking skills on individual, interpersonal and community levels. The program is tailored for three age groups (K-1st grade, 2nd-3rd grade and 4th-6th grade). The curriculum is split into a series of 45 to 60-minute modules (on topics like communication styles, negotiation and respect) that work in both camp and classroom settings.

Kayla Neal teaches Conflict Resolution to kids at summer camp in Kansas City, MO (July 2017).

Kayla Neal, Assistant Program Manager at Camp Fire Heartland, taught all three age categories Conflict Resolution at day camp this summer and is now teaching the program in the Kansas City school district.

“The program gives them a clear outlet to talk about their feelings,” Kayla says. “It helps them ask, ‘What is making me feel that emotion?’ It gives them a way to think differently and think collectively as a group.”

Kayla says most kids can tell you if they are mad, happy or sad. But learning to differentiate between more complex emotions—frustration, anxiety, disappointment—can help them manage and communicate their feelings better.

Youth at Camp Fire Orca in Washington State play tug-of-war.

“Being able to identify the emotion—it starts there,” Kayla says. “Then they can figure out what’s really going on.”

For example, Kayla says, if a youth can differentiate between being mad and being anxious, they can also identify the cause of that anxiety, and what they can do about it. “If I’m feeling a little anxiety about a test, then I can ask myself what I can do to help with that anxiety: study, get some rest.”

The program helps kids manage their feelings and also communicate their emotions to others more effectively. That emotional intelligence can help mitigate childhood conflicts, especially intense ones like bullying.

As part of Camp Fire’s Thrive{ology} approach, the conflict resolution curriculum has already had an impact. When we measure kids’ belief in their ability to talk to someone they were “mad at” before taking part in Camp Fire’s programming, they rate their confidence much lower than other life skills. But early studies show that kids are self-reporting big leaps in their conflict-resolution confidence after a spring and summer of Camp Fire fun.

According to Camp Fire National Headquarter’s Program Consultant Nikki Roe Cropp, out of all the ‘Thriving Indicators’ we measure in youth, the skills they learn in Conflict Resolution has shown the greatest growth. This research makes it all the more exciting to be able to launch our tested Conflict Resolution curricula to the other 55 Camp Fire councils in the New Year.

Conflict resolution skills are endangered and transformative. Thanks for your support as we equip more youth to be proactive and learn to handle conflict in a healthy way! It’s a beautiful thing, and everyone wins.

Photo from Camp Fire Seattle, taken by Jenny Gawf

Find your local council and see if they will have this program available, or ask what other awesome programs they have going on!

$2.5 Million Investment from the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation to Build Camp Fire’s Capacity


S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation

September 24, 2017

$2.5 Million Investment from the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation to Build Camp Fire’s Capacity, Increase Impact, Serve More Youth

Kansas City, Mo. — The S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation invested again in Camp Fire, a national youth development organization, with a generous grant of $2.5 million to help build organizational capacity and reach more kids and teens with its leading, research-based programs.

The $2.5 million will be distributed over a two-and-a-half-year period and will focus on leadership development for the staff and board; the continued expansion of Camp Fire’s online learning system to mobilize highly trained staff and volunteers; increase the local affiliate capacity across the country to deliver more high-quality programs; strengthen Camp Fire’s fundraising arm; and helping raise brand awareness nationally.

Previous investments in Camp Fire from The S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, totaling nearly $800,000 over the past two years, supported specific capacity building initiatives for both Camp Fire National Headquarters and the affiliate system. This new investment brings the Foundation’s total commitment to Camp Fire to $3.3 million.

“Camp Fire is honored to announce this investment and partnership with prominent foundations like the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation. The Foundation’s leadership continues to heavily invest in a big vision for how we can better teach, equip, and support America’s youth for maximum impact,” said Cathy Tisdale, President and CEO of Camp Fire National Headquarters. “This new investment will strengthen Camp Fire’s organizational capacity; support our innovation and growth; and take us to the next level in our ability to deliver Our Promise as we work with our 54 councils nationwide to improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of youth, their families, and their communities across the country.”

About Camp Fire

Camp Fire has been an innovative leader in youth development since 1910. Its proven programs give kids the life skills they need now so they can reach their full potential. Last year, Camp Fire’s 53 councils served more than 184,000 youth and families across 1,341 program sites, in 25 states and in D.C. All Camp Fire programs are based on cutting-edge research and founded on the pillars of Social Emotional Learning (SEL), delivered through Out-of-School-Time (OST) programs, environmental education and camp, and teen service and leadership development. Because youth shape the world, Camp Fire’s focus is on giving youth and teens the opportunity to find their spark, lift their voice, and discover who they are.

About the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation

For more information, please contact:

Erin Risner, Director of Marketing & Communications, Camp Fire National Headquarters

816.285.2001, erin.risner@campfire.org

How We Talk About Failure & Success with Our Kids

Camp Fire Gulf Wind in Pensacola, Florida, Aug. 2017

Current research shows that our intelligence isn’t fixed – it can actually change!

How? One of the keys to success in both school and life is adopting a growth mindset.

Camp Fire believes it is important to help the kids and teens in our lives – and even ourselves! – believe that they have the ability to change and learn.

As we’re growing our positive brain muscles, it’s important to pay attention to how we encourage young people. A few simple shifts in the way we talk about both mistakes and successes can significantly alter kids’ mindsets.

Making the Most of Mistakes

It’s tempting to go into sympathy mode when a kid or teen in your life is recovering from a setback. But research reports that offering too much consolation can distract kids from the valuable lessons the mistake presents.

In fact, one study showed that when teachers had a comfort-oriented response to a low math score (“It’s ok. You’re better at other subjects,” for example), kids came away from that interaction with lower expectations for themselves and lower motivation to learn. They heard the implied message—you’re just not good at math, and that’s OK—loud and clear.

As other social scientists put it, “It is possible that adults’ attempts to comfort children may hinder the learning process by influencing the extent to which children attend to and make sense of their mistakes. That is, adults may inadvertently distract children from learning from their errors.”

Instead of trying to make kids feel better immediately when they hit a roadblock, congratulate them on taking a risk. Then encourage them to pay more attention, not less, to the mistake, setback or obstacle.

“If they are upset because they cannot do something, then we do a lot of encouraging,” says Pamila Townson, Director of the Camp Fire Century Youth Learning Center (Camp Fire Gulf Wind).

Pamila suggests using phrases like:

  • “Look how far you have come.”
  • “I bet if you keep practicing you will be able to do even better the next time.”
  • “Let me know if you need help—it is ok to ask for help!”

Pamila says they encourage kids to use their Spark to help them set goals, make plans and move forward.

Angela Dikes, VP of Professional Growth at Camp Fire First Texas, agrees. “I would emphasize the message that it’s time to try again. Let’s talk about what the next step might be.”

When encouraging kids to think about what’s next—new strategies, more training—Angela uses questions like:

  • “Is seems like that didn’t go your way. What do you think happened?”
  • “What do you think you would do differently next time?”
  • “What do you need?”

Praising the process

Now that you’ve got your setback conversation game on lock, let’s look at how to celebrate a growth mindset in times of success.

Some of our go-to compliments (“You’re so smart!” “You’re so talented!”) are based in a more fixed mindset. Without meaning to, we’re commenting on what someone is instead of what they’ve done, practiced or learned. When we shift the way we praise to honor the effort, tenacity or courage someone has put into their success, we can build a growth mindset, instead.

Instead of praising who a quality, try to switch to complimenting a kid’s process.

“We work to encourage kids rather than just praising them,” Angela says. “We praise effort, strategies and progress, not intelligence or abilities.”

Pamila offers these growth-mindset encouragements:

  • “I can tell you practiced a lot!”
  • “I can see the effort you put into your work”
  • “Thank you for trying hard.”

“Encourage them to set goals and give them tools to overcome challenges in everyday life,” Pamila says. “Stress the importance of practice, adjustments, effort, and commitment. With these all things are possible.”

For more great growth mindset advice, check out The Search Institute’s charts on “Cultivating Growth Mindsets” and “Praise Pointers for Parents and Teachers”.

Growth Mindset: Your Key to Thriving

Teens embody a growth mindset on the high ropes course at Camp Fire Columbia’s Camp Namanu, outside of Portland, Oregon, in August 2017

Do you believe people can change? Do you think we can grow? Do you consider things like intelligence, talents and skills prizes of a random genetic lottery or qualities anybody can develop with time and tenacity?

Camp Fire is built around the belief that we can boost our smarts, develop new skills (or lose them if we don’t practice) and learn new ways to, well, learn.

In the Camp Fire world, mistakes aren’t failures; they are an important part of how we grow.

This approach to life and learning is called a growth mindset, and it permeates Camp Fire’s culture.

In the words of Stanford’s Dr. Carol Dweck, “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”

Love of learning? Check. Resilience? Yep. We’re all about that. Once kids and teens have found their sparks, a growth mindset arms them with the curiosity and grit to develop them.

How do you know if you have a growth mindset? As yourself a few simple questions (or take Dr. Dweck’s in-depth quiz, if you have more time).

If you nodded yup to 2 and 4, you’re working that growth mindset like a boss. If you answered yeah, probably to 1 and 3, you are likely operating out of a fixed mindset.

  1. When you describe your own skills and talents, do you generally say they are things you were born with…
  2. …or things you worked hard to develop?
  3. When you run into a challenge, do you often blame the problem on a personal lack (“I’m just not creative”)…
  4. …or get curious about what you could change to find a solution?

A fixed mindset is the opposite of a growth mindset. It assumes intelligence and talents are innate: you either have them or you don’t. If we don’t question that mindset, we’re left feeling anxious that we don’t have what it takes to overcome obstacles…and can’t do anything to change those deficiencies.

Fortunately, neuroscience shows us that our brains are malleable. Our brains grow when we use them—just like our muscles. We can teach ourselves to adopt a growth mindset, just like any other skill. We can change! That’s good news because having a growth mindset is scientifically linked to all kinds of great stuff, including higher parental school involvement, the ability to weather traumatic events, and lower rates of childhood depression and anxiety.

We’re going to spend September exploring growth mindsets here on the blog and across our social media accounts. Follow along and join in the #growthmindset conversation!

The Power of Naming the Spark

“I see a spark as something that inspires you to grow, and something that inspires you to help other people around you grow.”

These are wise words from Spencer, a Camp Fire counselor. We love this story: Spencer saw a spark in his camper Trey. Naming it changed Trey and their whole cabin community.

Some other things we can learn from Spencer and Trey’s story:

  • Sparks can be social and emotional skills like Trey’s: making other people feel like they belong.
  • Sparks are for using and encouraging now. Sure, Trey is thinking about how he’s going to use his spark in a future career, but his present life is bigger, fuller and happier because he’s using it today.
  • Naming someone’s spark is powerful stuff. Trey says a key moment in his life was when Spencer both called out his spark and suggested an immediate way to develop it.

Still not convinced? See what science has to say. Here is a cool infographic with 16 benefits of Sparks!

This is what Camp Fire is all about. If your spark is similar to Trey’s—if you love to include and inspire others—we want to meet you! Volunteer at a Camp Fire near you. And if you know a kid who is still looking for their passion, sign them up to find their spark at a local Camp Fire.

Living Life with Forward Momentum: One College Senior’s Key to Success

When a book on growth mindset becomes a young man’s go-to college companion — one he shared with his roommate who was struggling with challenging life decisions — it’s clear that tenacity and courage (the cornerstones of a growth mindset) have sunk in, and sunk in deep.

In conversation with Jakob D., a Camp Fire alumni and college senior, he shared how Camp Fire first introduced him to Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

“I learned to never give up, to always keep trying. I never doubted a solution would eventually come to me. And I trusted that though the solution may not be perfect, there’s often perfection in the imperfection,” Jakob articulated.

Jakob has learned what many adults still struggle to master. “I relax in the moment,” he shared. “I find happiness and joy in the simple things. I take pride in my work.”

Jakob recounts his experience as a Camp Fire camp counselor as work he was especially proud of. When the youth he was working with were particularly frustrated, he had them approach the problem without speaking. “Though it took more time, the kids learned that slowing down is actually a good thing. It made them focus. They learned to be more deliberate, using hand signals to communicate between them. And they solved the problem.”

Though Jakob said he would have loved to have taken credit for the idea of adopting silence to work through a group challenge, he deferred to Camp Fire. “I learned the idea from my elders,” he said.

Jakob concludes by circling back to a growth mindset. He is convinced that what he learned from Camp Fire has been the underpinning of living his life with forward momentum.

“I keep trying to learn new skill sets. I don’t get stuck,” Jakob states emphatically. And when he does? He refers back to his book. “It always helps,” he concludes.

Jakob is set to graduate in December 2017 with a major in computer science. We are inspired by Jakob’s story and can’t wait to see where he goes next!

Watch Carol Dweck’s TED TALK on The Power of Believing You Can Improve to see in action what Jakob is putting in action, and why it’s pillar of all of Camp Fire’s programs.