Young people are craving deep, real connections with people who see them as they are. This was the driver for Camp Fire National's new mission statement, and also why we were so excited to discover this remarkable new report, “A Call to Connection: Rediscovering the Transformative Power of Relationships.”  


A Call to Connection: Rediscovering the Transformative Power of Relatiobships


The primer is a collaboration from Berkeley’s Greater Good Science CenterSacred Design Lab and the Einhorn Collaborative, a nonprofit that is “advancing the science and practice of empathy, mutual understanding, and relationship building.” Their values align closely with ours, especially when it comes to prioritizing relationships. The primer was written to “spark conversation and inspire action.” 

While we strongly encourage you to take a look, here are three ideas from this rich document that we’ve been digging:  

The primer lists isolating tech alongside social media platforms and polarization as three non-pandemic reasons loneliness is increasing in our culture. (They also cite a Harvard study that found 61 percent of American young adults feel “serious loneliness.”) “A Call to Connection” suggests groups ask themselves “How might our program/product/experience be different if we designed it with these [individual, interpersonal, and societal] obstacles in mind?”  

At Camp Fire, our programs center on unplugged time, especially when it comes to camp and outdoor programming. We know time in nature can help young people both detox and reconnect. To help combat the effects of loneliness and other emotional stressors, we put mental health at the forefront of our programming. From conducting pulse checks to partnering with the mental health nonprofit On Our Sleeves and educating staff and volunteers on trauma-sensitive approaches, we are helping create positive, safe environments where kids can escape the disconnection of modern life.   

Are there other ways Camp Fire can help young people counter the loneliness encoded in smartphone and social media algorithms?

The report outlines three “stances” of connection: bonding, bridging and healing. Bridging is connecting with people who are different than we are. It takes curiosity, empathy and a little hard work to bridge, and it’s necessary for both healthy societies and healthy people. The report encourages us to ask, “What are we doing as a group that seems to help us bridge differences among us? How might we do more of that?” 

Offering programming where bridging can happen is a core part of our mission, vision and values. In our journey to become a truly equitable organization, we are committed to creating safe and inclusive environments where everyone can feel welcome now and addressing where we’ve gone wrong in the past. This intentional approach seems to be paying off:  

87 percent of Camp Fire teens say they have built friendships with people who are different from them, and 94 percent of our 3rd through 5th graders say that they feel accepted just the way they are at Camp Fire.  

“I feel like whatever background you come from, whatever your past is, it’s ok to come here because you have a community that’s a lot of different people,” said one day camp participant last year.   

What else can Camp Fire be doing to help young people connect with those who are different?  

“Creating a social container,” or a place where connection is primed to happen, is one of seven practices the report offers. Social containers can be literal spaces or coalesce around a kind of formal or informal covenant—a collaborative agreement of how to be in relationship together. That intentionality can make the long-lasting connection more likely.  

The values and traditions Camp Fire camps create are a kind of social container and/or covenant. The intentional time spent together can lead to real bonds. Last year 26,957 youth participated in Camp Fire’s environmental and camp programs, and demand is strong this year. Many of our camps are reporting numbers that rival pre-pandemic registrations, and some of our camps even have long waiting lists. Kids—and parents—are hungry for connection, and we’re happy to set the stage!

How have camps helped build connection in your life?  We'd love to hear from you!

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