The Eight Originals
Celeste James remembers giving her mother push-back in the early 1960s when, in advance of a trip to the Chinese neighborhood of Chicago, Celeste and her group of eight Camp Fire girls were required to wear their uniforms. "We wanted to wear, in our opinion, more hip, bell-bottom jeans," remembers Celeste. However, her mother, the group's leader said, "No uniform, no trip." They wore their blue and red.
Celeste's mother, Lyna Williams, organized the group, O Co Wa Sin (Celeste couldn't remember the meaning) two months before President John Kennedy was assassinated. "We had idyllic, middle-class childhoods," said Celeste. With the exception of two mothers who worked as teachers, all the girls' moms stayed at home to raise them. The eight were in first grade. They also were the first all-African American Camp Fire council in Chicago. Asked for more detail about this particular distinction, Celeste replied, "There was no deliberate exclusivity. There was no political statement making. We were just a group of Camp Fire girls from the same neighborhood who got along." They still do. On September 6th, they're having a 50th anniversary celebration luncheon.
Their distinction arose from being a cohesive group of young girls who came of age during the late "60s and early "70s. Celeste reflected that she and her friends would haveâ€”most likelyâ€”developed the same set of principles and life focus that continues to guide them today, due to the influence of their supportive families. She continued to explain, however, that Camp Fire amplified the value system the girls developed at a formative age.
"Camp Fire helped develop us," said Celeste. "We learned how to be a part of a group. We especially learned how to give service to others." She particularly remembered a trip to a local senior center. "As I look back," Celeste reflected, "through Camp Fire we had exposure to new ideas, to being a part of the larger community."
"It was hard to separate our Camp Fire lives from the community in which we lived," she remembered. As they grew through grade school and then attended different high schools, Camp Fire remained, in Celeste's words, "a very, very strong presence."
"I have always been grateful that my mother started the group, that all our mothers were involved, and that Camp Fire provided the exposure to a larger community that impacted all our lives," Celeste concluded.
Alumna's Earliest Memories Were of Summer Camp
"I was basically born into Camp Fire," said Riley Ball. "My mom was a Camp Fire kid."
In fact, her mother, Tracy Taitch, turned her love of the organization into a career. When Riley was born, Tracy was serving as a Camp Fire District Director. In addition, she served as Camp Fire Inland Northwest Camp Dart-Lo Director for 15 years before retiring in 2007.
Riley's earliest memories were of Camp Dart-Lo. Located on 51 acres, the day camp offered endless opportunities for fun and exploration. "I was there every weekday during the summer from the time I was barely able to walk," Riley said. "It was my home."
Riley enjoyed the outdoor activities, such as swimming, hiking, and archery, but what she most appreciated was that Dart-Lo was a place where every kid felt welcomed and accepted.
Riley worked hard to achieve Camp Fire milestones (including earning a Wohelo Award), but what she really looked forward to was the day she'd become a camp counselor. However, just when that goal was in sight, she learned that due to budgetary constraints, the council wouldn't be operating the camp at Dart-Lo in 2012.The news was devastating.
Riley and her mother discussed possible solutions. Tracy offered to serve as camp director on a volunteer basis. She and Riley requested–and received–permission from the council to offer two weeks of camp with a volunteer staff.
With council approval, Riley, at 16, took an active role in recruiting staff and planning and navigating complex logistics. She found five Horizon members from her own Camp Fire Club to spend two weeks cleaning the main lodge, outbuildings, trails, fire pits, and swimming pool.
The camp was a resounding success, but Riley didn't rest on her laurels. Instead, she looked ahead to the next summer. She and her fellow volunteers planned several fundraising events that brought campers, family, and friends back to camp. They hosted Ghosts, Goblins, and Goodies Day for Halloween, Pluto Play Day, Nacho Bar Day with a live band, and a pancake feed.
These activities secured enough donations for Riley's team of volunteers, with help from council staff, to be able to open Camp Dart-Lo for five weeks last summer. "This year will be our third summer running Dart-Lo on a volunteer basis," Riley said.
Her commitment hasn't gone unnoticed. In 2012, Riley received the Unity in the Community Outstanding Youth Leader Award. Riley recently graduated from high school and also received an associate's degree from Spokane Falls Community College.
Her mother's passion for Camp Fire sparked a flame in Riley that still burns brightly. "I truly believe that Camp Fire played a large role in shaping me," she said. "I learned to work with others, and how to feel comfortable in my own skin." Fortunately, Riley's spark will assure future generations of youth the same opportunity she had...to become a Camp Fire kid.
Nature Is Blank Canvas for Elizabeth Logan
Elizabeth Logan was first drawn to Camp Fire as part of a group of girls she called "outdoorsy." As the years went by, a Wohelo was celebrated, college decisions were navigated, and the young girls were replaced by strong, independent Camp Fire women. In a recent conversation, Elizabeth shared with deep emotion, "I will always thank Camp Fire for bringing me two of the strongest women I know. They taught me how to be independent and how my independence can continue to shape young lives...especially those who love the outdoors."
Elizabeth is Director of Outreach at Camp Fire Heart of Oklahoma and Assistant Camp Director of the council's Camp DaKaNi. After college she interned with the council. When a full time job became available, she jumped at the opportunity.
According to Elizabeth, one of the reasons she loves working at Camp Fire is that she gets to wear several hats. During the school year she manages the council's environmental science after-school program and teen leadership program. In the summer she spends her days at camp.
"The number one thing that motivates me is the fact I get to work with the youth every day. Kids are amazing. They have this contagious energy that is absolutely wonderful to be around. Camp gives them the chance to be adventurous and creative. I get to help them grow while they are here, and that's pretty wonderful," Elizabeth explained.
According to Elizabeth, too many youth today don't get the opportunity to be outside. Neighborhood time is limited, there is a lack of freedom to play in open spaces. "Not at Camp DaKaNi," Elizabeth continued. "We have a 'free to play' attitude in everything we do. We believe nature is a blank canvas upon which kids can create to their heart's content."
Elizabeth and all her Camp DaKaNi colleagues encourage youth to use their own imagination and resourcefulness, inspiring them to be bold, take risks, and move through fear. Elizabeth shared that she is always amazed at the mental transformation of the youth she works with.
"Over and over I've had kids come into the office on their first day of camp, scared and trembling for Mom or Dad," Elizabeth chuckled. "Yet by the third day, they're climbing a 20-foot rock wall."
Asked if this was a rare occurrence, Elizabeth answered, "No, exactly the opposite. Watching kids walk through and conquer their fears is an everyday aspect of a youth's camp experience."
The camp presents a weekly Tanuka award to any and all youngsters who demonstrate leadership or growth. "Sometimes 20 are awarded in one week," Elizabeth said with pride.
Summers are good times for Elizabeth Logan. "The more time I get to spend outside, the happier I am," she confirmed. And the more time Elizabeth gets to spend exploring the outdoors with willing young campers, the happier she's making kids.
Eileen Bobowski helps raise awareness and funding to support recently released prisoners "get on and stay on the straight and narrow path to becoming productive, tax-paying citizens" (her words). And, according to Eileen, she owes much of her commitment to social justice today to her Camp Fire experiences of years ago.
Eileen is the Resource Development Specialist for Catholic Charities TurnAround Program. The lives impacted by TurnAround are those of former felons. And the work TurnAround is doing deserves a considerable measure of respect. The national average for recidivism, or returning to previous behavior, is 45–65 percent. Through the efforts of the TurnAround program, only 14 percent of the former offenders in the program have recidivated. That's a powerful success rate. If Camp Fire contributed to those lives, that's powerful testimony to the work we do.
According to Eileen, "The prevalent belief held by too many people is that once someone has committed a crime, they'll always be a criminal." She doesn't believe that. More important, TurnAround makes sure the clients they work with don't believe it.
From a young age Eileen felt she was called to serve. "Give service," shared Eileen, "was the foundation of what I learned at Camp Fire. I have carried those words with me throughout my life."
Though she's quick to explain that her youth development days didn't begin at Camp Fire (she was first a Brownie), after moving to a new school and seeking out options for new friendships, she felt most drawn to Camp Fire.
"I felt accepted at Camp Fire, more welcome," Eileen remembers. "There was nothing elitist about the group. Instead of being focused on activities that served us individually, we focused on activities that served others."
And then there was the camp. "When I first arrived at Camp Tialaka I had never been away from home, yet once I settled into my cabin (after a run-in with a mouse...another story for another day!) I lost my fear. Everything was so beautiful. That's another thing I learned at Camp Fire...seek beauty."
She particularly remembered sleeping out under the pine trees. "The trees sounded just like someone whispering 'shhhhhh,'" Eileen shared. "Being connected to nature in such a restful setting was so peaceful. Any fears I had about being away from home were whispered away."
Perhaps during those early days, under the trees, Eileen somehow learned how to listen and to recognize the value of soothing a frightened soul. Her life work today is equally comforting.
Everything They Needed to Know They Learned in Camp Fire
From left to right: Carolyn Salisbury Deyoe, Laura Fox Steele, Donna Salisbury (Leader), Laura Donckels Mische, Demetra Crandall, Deona Hall Hamilton
A more recent photo of the women. From left to right: Carolyn Salisbury, Laura Fox Steele; Laura Donckels Mische; Deona Hall Hamilton, Demetra Crandall
The women in Laura Steele's Wa-Ni-An-Da Camp Fire group have remained lifelong friends. They've also grown into the competent, successful individuals they are thanks to Camp Fire and...each other.
In fact, at the recent 100th camp anniversary, the girls reminisced over their early Camp Fire years and the lives they've lived since. Though at the time, Camp Fire just seemed to be "something we did," Laura shared that as the women talked after the anniversary celebration, they recognized a shift in their understanding. "Camp Fire, "said Laura, "impacted each of us at a more fundamental, practical level. The seeds of simple things, such as taking notes, planning events, problem solving, and carrying through on our intentions, were learned at Camp Fire."
Donna Salisbury was their "fearless leader" (Laura's high words of praise) until the group of five women earned their Wohelo Awards in 1984. "We went through a time in junior high when we gave up the traditional Camp Fire uniforms for football T-shirts and adopted the name 'Ted's Boy,'" chuckled Laura. "In high school, we returned to our traditional roots, adopting the name Wa-Ni-An-Da. Since high school graduation, we have continued to stay in touch, meeting several times a year." Asked why "Ted's Boys," Laura explained, "Ted Salisbury was our group's co-leader. He always referred to us as his boys."
"I would describe us as a group of women who, despite our many differences, share the common traits of kindness, helpfulness, and intelligence," Carolyn Deyoe, one of the five, reminisced. "The odds were surely against five teenagers who went to five different high schools. Yet we've stuck together—for more than 40 years."
Part of the glue that has kept them connected, has been service to others. "We can't help ourselves," shared Laura. "Service is simply who we are."
The women all have successful careers and, according to Laura, "have been blessed with good health and love. The values that we were taught by our families were reinforced through Camp Fire. They've contributed to our lasting friendship and served us well throughout our lives. We all agree that everything we needed to know we learned in Camp Fire."
100 Years of Camp Fire First Texas Nostalgia Celebrates Texas Council's Past, Present and Future
Camp Fire First Texas in Fort Worth is celebrating 100 years of youth development and community impact. "A Century of Sparking Discovery," a historic collection of Camp Fire First Texas artifacts and memorabilia dating back to 1914, opened at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History with a ribbon cutting ceremony and VIP reception on March 6.
Camp Fire alumna Mayor Betsy Price welcomed the crowd and presented Camp Fire with a proclamation recognizing the council's centennial. Joining in the celebration were Cathy Tisdale, CEO of Camp Fire National Headquarters; Elizabeth Darling, Camp Fire National Board Chair; and Katherine Gulick Fricker and Charlotte Gulick Hewson–granddaughters of Dr. and Mrs. Luther Gulick, founders of Camp Fire–who helped cut the ribbon to the exhibit.
Spanning 10 decades of Camp Fire First Texas' positive impact on North Texas youth and their families, the exhibit offers visitors the opportunity to experience both the history and the vision of Camp Fire.
"This exhibit will be an opportunity for Camp Fire volunteers and alumni to reminisce and look back on all that Camp Fire has been and has meant to them, but it is my desire that it does much more than that," said Zem Neill, President and CEO of Camp Fire First Texas. "The core values of the organization remain constant, even though the ways we accomplish them have changed over time. This exhibit allows Camp Fire to demonstrate its connection and relevancy to children, youth and families today and our dedication to evolve to serve our communities to remain relevant into the next 100 years."
The centennial exhibit is scheduled for display through October 12 and features the ceremonial gown and other items of Camp Fire founder Charlotte Gulick, on-loan from the Wohelo Camps in Sebago, Maine. This is the first time such artifacts have left the camp in more than 100 years.
"The Fort Worth Museum of Science and History is so very proud to be a part of the Camp Fire First Texas Centennial Celebration," said Van A. Romans, President of the Museum of Science and History. "We believe their centennial exhibit at the museum will be an incredible asset for our communities. We were very honored to be asked to design, build and showcase their artifacts and wonderful story. The Museum extends its deepest congratulations to the Camp Fire Board of Directors, the Camp Fire Foundation, staff, volunteers, supporters and the thousands of Camp Fire alumni who have been impacted by their Wohelo spirit."
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