When Dr. Luther Halsey Gulick Jr. and his wife, Charlotte, founded Camp Fire Girls in 1910, their goal was simple: to better their Vermont town on the occasion of its 150th anniversary. For the celebratory pageant, the Boy Scouts had been designated to play a key role, with girls left watching from the sidelines. In response, Gulick set out to create an organization focused on outdoor activities especially for young women.
Camp Fire Girls of America was incorporated as a national agency in 1912. In 1975, the organization changed its name to Camp Fire Boys and Girls when membership eligibility was made coeducational. The current name, Camp Fire USA, was adopted in 2001. Now, the programs include more than just outdoor recreation — Camp Fire aims to build confidence in younger children and provide hands-on leadership and educational experiences for older youth.
Nathaly and Nancy Cabrera, 10-year-old twins, and Emily Cabrera, age 8, may not be aware of the organization’s background, but they have experienced its benefits after attending Camp Fire’s after-school programs for a year. And their mother, Carina Soledad, is grateful that her children are attending a 13-week summer program; day care arrangements can be expensive and housecleaning jobs keep her busy.
As well, Soledad is confident that Camp Fire provides the educational support and encouragement the girls need. Because Soledad and her husband are recent Mexican immigrants, they’re not comfortable with the English language and don’t feel confident about helping with schoolwork. Even so, Soledad hopes her daughters will attend college. In turn, the girls have high ambitions: Nathaly hopes to be a physician, Nancy a veterinarian, and Emily envisions bravely fighting fires.
Camp Fire USA Orange County Council, based in Santa Ana, offers a wealth of learning opportunities that the girls enjoy. Many activities take place off-site at the Irvine Ranch Outdoor Education Center. One week, the theme is Mining Camp, at which kids explore a working mineshaft to learn about life in California’s Gold Rush days. Farming Camp is about agriculture, including a shared meal prepared from a garden that the campers have planted and tended. At Astronomy Camp, campers learn that “stars are not just something to wish upon,” according to the website.
Meanwhile, sessions of Creativity Camp are offered at the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity, named for the Warner Bros. animator who created Bugs Bunny, Road Runner and other classic characters.
By introducing Nathaly, Nancy and Emily to so many fields, Camp Fire USA is encouraging them to consider a variety of interests and career paths. More important, camp officials hope to ignite in them a love of learning.
With $1.6 million raised last year by the Los Angeles Times Summer Camp Campaign, approximately 6,500 children will go to camp in Southern California this summer.
The Summer Camp Campaign is part of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund, a McCormick Foundation fund, which matches all donations at 50 cents on the dollar.
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