We know that camp and outdoor programs help young people connect to the environment and each other. These life-changing experiences have long-term benefits: strong developmental relationships with safe adults; a chance to explore new interests and skills; mental health supports; and a sense of belonging — to a community and the earth itself.

But there are many unseen barriers that can keep kids and teens from engaging with Camp Fire’s camp and outdoor programs. Financial need, facilities that aren’t accessible, and non-inclusive policies and practices can block their full participation.

That’s not good enough for the young people we serve. We want all kids to be able to experience the goodness of getting outdoors.

This is where YOU and the Friendship Fund come in. The Camp Fire National Friendship Fund is a financial and community resource assistance program that fills in funding gaps throughout the national Camp Fire network, extends existing scholarship programs, and supports projects that remove barriers to accessibility. “Through our Camp Accessibility, Meaningful Participation, and Equal Representation (C.A.M.P.E.R.) efforts, we heard from young people about the barriers that exist to accessing camp and having a meaningful camp experience,” said Shawna Rosenzweig, Camp Fire’s Chief Strategy Officer. “We wanted to focus our attention on the setting or program needing to be redesigned rather than centering the young person or their identities as the ‘barrier’. The Friendship Fund was a great way to ask affiliates to focus their attention on ways to design camp to build a stronger sense of belonging.”

Our modern-day Friendship Fund has an historical precedent as Camp Fire’s emergency relief source in the 1950s through 1970s. Central to Camp Fire’s efforts to help the Prince William Sound area recover after the devastating Alaskan earthquake of 1964, the fund enabled delivery of supplies, a day camp in Seward, and camperships for Alaskan Native young women.

The new version of the fund re-launched in 2022 with $20,000 given by a seed donor. All Camp Fire’s affiliate camps had access to the first round of funding and could request up to $5,000.

“Affiliates applied and had a planning session with Ben Matthews, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Specialist,” Shawna explained. “Once their plan was finalized, we gave them the requested funds.”

Here are some of the projects the Friendship Fund supported in 2022: · Covering Camp Fire Samish tuition for families with limited incomes

· Buying outdoor gear (hiking boots, sleeping bags, water bottles, jackets, etc.) for campers with financial need at Camp Fire Snohomish

· Installing automatic door-openers at Camp Fire Minnesota’s dining hall and community center to boost accessibility

· Buying swim shirts for Camp Fire Heart of Iowa campers who couldn’t afford them, as part of a new gender-inclusive & gender-neutral swim dress-code policy

· Upgrading water systems and bathrooms at Camp Fire Inland Northwest

· Supporting a new Leader-in-Training program for Indigenous youth at Camp Fire Alaska that provided free camp tuition, stipends and workforce skills training

Applications for 2023 Friendship Fund projects will open early next year. We’d like to grow the Friendship Fund to help meet the growing needs of campers and camps throughout our network.

Your gift can help affiliate camps make updates that create more welcoming environments and subsidize outdoor experiences for campers with financial needs.

“Each of our affiliate camps have different tuition prices, but range from $400 to $1,800 depending on the location, session, length of session, and activities offered,” Ben said.

As families and organizations continue to face economic uncertainty, the Friendship Fund can help us deliver on our vision of a world where all kids get an equitable chance to discover themselves, connect with their community and engage with nature.

Can you help us break down barriers to life-changing outdoor experiences?