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…
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.
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.
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.
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: