The other day I read an article on sfgate about a group of girls in California, just north of where I grew up, who were trying to officially join the Boy Scouts despite there being Girl Scout groups available to them. They feel they are a bitter fit for the Boy Scouts because “they (Girl Scouts) take naps and write letters during their meetings instead of running around doing outdoors things”.
I instantly emailed my mother and asked if Camp Fire had gotten in touch with these girls. For those who are not familiar Camp Fire is a scouting type organization started in 1910 (pre Girl Scouts). Originally Camp Fire Girls they went co-ed in the 70’s. Their focus is on the outdoors, the environment, and community service. They also lack that slightly creepy paramilitary thing the scouts have going.
My mother got back to me and told me that Camp Fire is basically dead in Northern California. There is still the Golden Empire Council in Vallejo but they’ve always been small and are apparently floundering. All the major Bay Area councils, even Piedmont, have gone belly up. They camps around Lake Vera where I spent many childhood summers have all been passed to other organizations. This made me intensely sad.
I’m a mom now and living in New Zealand so Camp Fire isn’t an option but if I was still in the Bay I’d want my kid to join. I’m trying desperately to raise her reasonably gender neutral. There is a whole other blog post there that I’m going to get to one of these days. I also want her to have a good understanding of the outdoors. My mother was a Camp Fire Girl and when I turned five she became a group leader for me. Four years later she started a second group for my sister. The two of us climbed up the ranks for 13 years each. For various reasons we never went for our WoHeLo medallion (Eagle Scout equivalent) but falling short of that we picked up as many skills as the organization (and my mother) could cram into us, as well as having some adventures I can still tell at parties.
There was white water rafting, multiday pack trips, nearly freezing to death on Easter morning half way up Mt. Diablo, hiking up ice cold runoff streams because there were no trails to follow, braving the Oakland Mudflats just to pick up litter. On skill levels there was first aid training that fell just short of EMT levels, wilderness survival, lighting fires by rubbing two sticks together, ropes, knives, lots of community service, leadership
skills, youth training skills, and the socioeconomics involved in charity fundraising (door to door candy sales every February). When I was feeling a bit antisocial at summer camp I was allowed to spend the days swimming in the lake or shooting on the archery range until I achieved official rankings from the American Archery Association (also now defunct). Basically you want a Camp Fire kid on your Zombie Apocalypse team.
I knew Camp Fire was shrinking but I don’t fully understand why. There is a vast surge of parents like myself who are trying to raise their children outside the cults of Transformers and the Disney Princess, and want their children accepted for who they are, and the thing about Camp Fire is they take anyone. They don’t care about gender. Boy, girl, neither, both, it doesn’t matter. Religion or lack thereof isn’t a thing. Sexuality doesn’t factor into it. Kids with special needs are welcomed. Family groupings don’t matter. A kid can have two moms, three dads, and a goat and as long as someone is willing to drive on camping trips occasionally no one cares. It is the perfect option for so many families and children who feel uncomfortable, unwelcomed, or down right rejected by the Girl/Boy Scouts.
In the end Girl/Boy Scouts have more money and some powerful public backing but I feel as a mother and a former Camp Fire kid here, now, 2015, when industry and media is trying so hard to split the genders, it is a time for Camp Fire to make a comeback in a big way. It represents what we should be striving for.
So if anyone in the North Bay is reading this and wants to start a Camp Fire group get in touch with the Golden Empire Council which is the closest and maybe contact the national center as well. Then get in touch with those kids or any families you know who love the outdoors, want to grow as individuals, and are looking for a good third option.
The Laws of Camp Fire
(As I remember them. It’s been a few years.)
Hold Onto Health
Glorify Your Work
Work, Health, and Love