For over a century, Camp Fire Samish Council has served Whatcom and Skagit County youth. They’re the local offshoot of a nationwide, all-inclusive youth organization.
Originally Camp Fire Girls and later Camp Fire USA, Camp Fire began in 1910 as the all-girl counterpart to Boy Scouts. Camp Fire Samish CEO Erin Walker says the organization taught “outdoor skills for girls, which was a little bit unheard of then” and became gender-neutral in 1975. Mount Vernon hosted Washington’s first Camp Fire meeting in 1912. In 1923, Carrie Kirby established Camp Kirby on Samish Island.
Camp Fire’s goal is helping “youth find their spark,” says Chief Program Officer Heather Lindsay. Through their clubs, camps, and classes, children forge lasting friendships, explore nature, and learn leadership and life skills.
Inspiring Happy Campers
Camp Fire’s Classic Club Program serves kids ages three to 18. Clubs meet regularly for recreational, educational, and service-oriented activities of their choice. Teens design service projects to earn the WoHeLo Medallion: Camp Fire’s highest honor.
“What we encourage youth to do is try many different skillsets or activities,” says Lindsay. “We have what we call Spark Champions, who will sit and support them through their activities as they progress.”
Candy sales are an annual club activity. “They’re learning a lot of life skills and how to present publicly, set goals, and deal with money,” says Walker. Customers can support Camp Fire while enjoying World’s Finest Chocolate and Camp Fire’s classic Almond Roca, Mint Patties, and Almond Caramel Clusters.
These fundraisers help clubs enjoy Camporee: weekend stays at Camp Kirby in spring and fall. Clubs gain additional funding from Dash to Disney, a 5K Fun Run at Camp Kirby where youth and families run in costume. “We have a lot of Mickey Mouses and princesses,” says Lindsay.
Camp Kirby provides 47 acres of forest along a 1.5-mile shoreline and unique programs for all extended stays. These include archery, rock climbing, cookouts, arts and crafts, outdoor living lessons, dance parties, skits, a formal serenade and celebration of campers (“Council Fire”), and hikes to the “Fairy Ring,” “Chapel,” and “Snow White’s Cabin.” Campers learn as they play, cleaning up their stations.
Nonmembers can also enjoy Camp Kirby, sometimes through other organizations. Grades K to 10 can enjoy a five-day summer Day Camp that adds swimming, kayaking, and one optional overnight into the mix. Grades one to 12 can take part in a weeklong Resident Camp, including outdoor campouts and an activity schedule called Scramble, which Walk describes as “anything from watercolor painting to fort building to yoga to field games.”
Ninth- and tenth-graders can help run camp through Counselor-Assistant-Training, while eleventh- and twelfth-graders can become Counselors-in-Training.
Enrichment In and Out of the Classroom
Camp Fire Samish provides newer educational opportunities. For instance, service-learning program Teens in Action has spread across Camp Fire councils since 1988.
Since 2017, Camp Fire Samish has also offered afterschool enrichment classes and day camps in Bellingham and Ferndale. Grades K to eight can sign up for six-to-eight week themed classes in art, science, Spanish, art in nature, survival skills, electricity, creativity, dance, “Under the Sea,” chess, and “Get Active.” They’re held indoors and outdoors.
“Our enrichment classes provide not just a service to the youth, because they’re having hands-on activities when they’re learning; it’s [also] providing a service to families,” Lindsay says, by offering extra worktime.
School districts and parks departments (including Burlington and Blaine-Birch Bay) partner with Camp Fire to provide venues, logistics, and safety. The classes significantly benefit youth with experiential learning styles.
“Every study I’ve read says that youth who participate in afterschool enrichment are getting better grades,” says Walker. “They’re more invested in school, they’re skipping school less often, they’re more likely to graduate, [and] they’re more likely to avoid risky behaviors.”
WoHeLo: Work, Health, and Love
Camp Fire strives to engage all youth with their interests, community, and natural surroundings.
“I think one of the greatest things about Camp Fire is that every group and club and individual can make it their own,” Walker says. “They can choose to wear a uniform or not wear a uniform, they can choose when they do their service, who they want to work with, and what they want that to look like.”
Camp Fire honors alumni who’ve made it their own through WoHeLo awards, memorials, and bricks at Camp Kirby—whose magic has touched generations. In Kevin Hong’s 90th-anniversary photobook Here by the Sea, staff reminisce about its folklore, red sunsets, and the dried grass that follows them home.
“We’re growing leaps and bounds every year,” says Lindsay. By referring youth, providing grants, and volunteering, you can help Camp Fire grow further.
“Volunteering could be leading youth, it could be volunteering in the office, it could be doing a project down at camp, it could be sharing their expertise with kids,” says Walker.
Through Camp Fire’s spark, youth’s newfound passions burn brightly into the future.