Lilly Paradis

Lilly Paradis, SummerKids behavior coach, a position funded by a recent Central Oregon Health Council grant.

At Camp Fire Central Oregon, our mission is to connect youth to the outdoors, to each other, and to themselves. But this can be easier said than done when we look at this mission through the lens of mental health.

As stated by Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, Surgeon General of the United States, “Mental health challenges are the leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes in young people. Unfortunately, in recent years, we’ve seen significant increases in certain mental health disorders in youth, including depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. Many factors shape the mental health of young people, from individual to societal level forces.”

Recognizing such challenges, Camp Fire Central Oregon has taken a proactive approach to help kids thrive, hiring a behavior coach at its SummerKids camp—and for the first time in the history of the organization, which has been serving youth in Central Oregon since 1916.

“At Camp Fire, we are always seeking to find new and better ways to ensure a warm, welcoming, and inclusive environment for all our kiddos, no matter their background,” says Zafiro Larsen, SummerKids’ program director. “The behavior coach is someone who allows us to do that for those who may need more specific support with behavior and is also an added resource for staff members who may need support responding to the needs of kiddos.”

Stepping into the behavior coach role this summer is Lilly Paradis, who holds a master’s degree in school counseling and, during the school year, works as an elementary school counselor for the Bend-La Pine School District.

Lilly Paradis, SummerKids' behavior coach (second from right) with campers and a staff member.

Lilly Paradis, SummerKids' behavior coach (second from right) circulates among staff and campers throughout the day, building rapport and providing behavior guidance where appropriate.

“My main goal as a behavior coach at SummerKids is to be the ‘coach’ for our counselors on all things behavior,” Lilly says. “This might look like teaching, supporting and encouraging the camp counselors to use behavior management skills and strategies with all campers. I want to work with them on gaining skills for all levels of behavior at camp, from connecting with our hardest kiddos to practicing effective teaching strategies in their groups. I am available to the counselors as a partner, helping them build their confidence as a counselor and ‘camper supporter.’ As this is the first time SummerKids has had this position, my other main goal is to establish some systems and routines for this role so that it can best support our counselors and our campers.

Lilly says kids are and have always been resilient and adaptable by nature. They can endure a lot of change, stress and adversity, all while developing their own coping skills and getting to know their identity and personality. With that in mind, however, she notes that many kids have very real struggles, some on a daily basis. What’s more, summertime—when kids are outside of their school-year routines—can take a unique toll on kids’ mental health and behavior.

“Sometimes, family and home dynamics are difficult and carry over into their school/camp lives,” she says. “Sometimes, their school/camp experiences are difficult, and they carry home the big feelings that came with their day. Sometimes, it's internal battles they are fighting that impact their home and their school/camp selves. As a behavior coach at Camp Fire in the summer and a school counselor at the schools during the school year, I am one of the key players in a child's life who helps them understand, cope and create solutions to help them get through those difficult experiences. I always approach every situation with a solution-focused mindset, which means the child plays a big part in helping come up with a solution. This helps them build the confidence to solve and cope with problems as they encounter them later on.”

Lilly Paradis talks with SummerKids youth.

Lilly Paradis (right) brings connection, positivity and support to all SummerKids youth.

Camp Fire Central Oregon goes to great lengths to set its campers up for success by setting its counselors up for success. Camp counselors are carefully selected from a pool of applicants, and then once hired, they complete training as a team before the start of camp.

Reflecting on this preparation, Lilly says, “I was really impressed with how in-depth some of the training went into ways camp counselors can support not just the campers, but themselves as well. I also noticed how much of a team approach is embodied in all of the counselors and leadership here. They all genuinely care about giving these kids a fun, safe and meaningful summer experience, and both of these things are impacting the way our campers experience their highs and lows each day. Camp counselors go out of their way to connect with campers when they are struggling and plan intentional and unique activities. In everything they do, it is clear they have their campers' best interest in mind.”

Along with pre-camp training, the camp counselors receive ongoing coaching by Camp Fire’s leadership staff. And Lilly has brought fresh strategies to that table, for example, recently teaching the camp counselors about Multi-Tiered Levels of Support.

“We’ve focused on learning strategies to support campers while we are teaching, identifying campers that need extra support, and developing systems to support campers with behavioral needs," she says. "With this in mind, counselors will sign up for a coaching session with me, where they have identified some areas that they feel they want to grow and improve on. I will work with them on their behavior management skills, instructional strategies, building group culture and generally helping all campers feel safe and supported.”

The Chickadee Champion Award

SummerKids' behavior coach awards the Chickadee Champion Award to staff members to recognize and reinforce positive, productive efforts around supporting campers' behaviors.

In addition, Lilly has begun implementing a "Chickadee Champion" award each week, where she looks out for a counselor who is showing growth, effort, and/or making meaningful and intentional improvements to their behavior management skills.

“This award is something I pass around to a different camp counselor each week,” she says, noting that awards and recognition reinforce best practices, helping teach camp counselors what they’re doing right while contributing to Camp Fire’s culture of professional development as well.

As to whether this new role at SummerKids will eventually grow to support other programs at Camp Fire Central Oregon, Larsen says, “For now, we’re just doing it at SummerKids, but who knows what could happen in the future!”

Always striving to lift up youth, this innovative addition to the SummerKids program brings a benefit that will, without a doubt, not just support campers this summer for in their many days, months and perhaps years ahead. Behavioral health skills aren’t just techniques, tips and tools for summer camp, but for a lifetime of thriving as well.