Mary Bowker works as Camp Fire Central Oregon's Grants Manager from her sailboat.

Mary Bowker, Grants Manager: Securing Funds & Scholarships From the Helm!

One of our amazing behind-the-scenes team leads is Mary Bowker, who serves from the Camp Fire helm as our Grants Manager. For the past eight years, Mary has been making a huge difference, not just as our current grants manager but a past Teen Programs Lead and past Program Director. With an undergraduate degree in Physics, she loves math and science, especially science as a forum to connect with people, particularly youth, which led her pretty quickly to education, both in a classroom and beyond four walls. In the classroom, she taught middle and high school math and science for over 10 years. Outside the classroom, she's also been a sea kayak guide, an outdoor school instructor, and groups leader for teenagers on international service trips. No doubt, we are all students of Mary, learning from her every day, as she manages so many tasks tied to registration, customer service and, of course, securing the funding upon which we rely to help provide scholarships and funding to kids who need it most.

Q: What’s your role as Grants Manager?
A: As the Grants Manager, I have the privilege of sharing all the amazing things Camp Fire does with potential funders. In preparing a grant application, I spend a lot of time considering the needs of youth and families in our community, how Camp Fire meets those needs, and why it is important. Writing persuasively about why we are great and the depth of our impact on our community means I get to reflect on and appreciate the big picture of what we are working toward almost every day. It is an awesome way to see and believe in a mission. If I am not convincing anyone else, I am definitely convincing myself!

Mary Bowker is on a bike on her 10,000 mile trek to China.

Mary Bowker trekked 12,000 miles by bike from Bend, Ore., to China.

Q: What are your sparks?
Like many Bendites, I like to be outside and active. I love to ski, bike, climb, hike, roller skate, sail, snorkel, paddle board - or any other outdoor adventure that comes my way.

I am also captivated by animals, wild and domestic, and could spend hours watching or interacting with them. I have developed a recent soft spot for mollusks. They kind of blow my mind. They are so weird and wonderful and different from us, albeit not very interactive...

Lastly, I love a good travel adventure with my husband. Ten years ago, we rode 12,000 miles on our bicycles from Bend to China (with a few boats, planes, and trains mixed in) following the Silk Road. Now we are learning to be sailors—we have been living on our sailboat for the last 2.5 years and have so far managed to sail from North Carolina to the southern Carribbean.

Q: What are your future goals, professional or personal?
I have been blessed and cursed by curiosity. While I definitely believe in goals, I also try to stay flexible and allow life to turn my head in different directions. I can't always articulate my goals well, but here is my best try:

Professionally, I want to spend my time in a way that supports my values and has a positive impact on my community, which is why I am so grateful to learn and grow as a part of the Camp Fire team. I really believe in what we are doing and the way we approach youth development.

On a personal level, I want to continue to discover new places, push myself out of my comfort zone, build and grow my relationships with friends and family (new and old), become fluent (I'll settle for passable) in Spanish, and maybe sail across an ocean one day. I have also always wanted to get to know an elephant, but we'll see. Not sure she'll fit in the boat.

Mary Bowker and two campers smiling

Mary Bowker has loved her experiences with Camp Fire Central Oregon youth.

Q: What’s your favorite part of working with youth?
Kids are always motivated to have a good time, which I respect, even in those moments when I am trying to get them to do something else and it feels like herding cats. They have great imaginations, fresh perspective, and are so open to a world of possibility. I find that inspiring. They also make me laugh. Selfishly, I love doing anything that makes me laugh.

While I don't get to work directly with youth any more, I still love hearing the stories from my coworkers and am so proud of what they are doing. I get to live a little vicariously through them.

Mary Bowker posing on a ski mountain.

Adventure is an A+ activity for Mary Bowker!

Q: Why does your job—and Camp Fire—matter?
Hmm, big question! How many characters do I have to answer this? (Just kidding, grant writer's joke.)

In a nutshell, I think all youth need adult champions outside their family to help them grow and learn. At Camp Fire, we create affirming, pressure-free spaces for youth to explore and be themselves; we show up for youth, even in their hard moments; and we provide a forum for them to practice developmental skills. Having a place to just be who you are is invaluable.

But, it still costs money to get there. So my job is primarily to secure funds so Camp Fire can serve its mission, be open and accessible to all youth, and support the staff that work so hard to make it all happen.

Mary Bowker poses with two camp fire staff members at a staff retreat in 2023.

Mary Bowker (left) flew back to join staff at Camp Fire Central Oregon's annual staff retreat. Also pictured: Sam Ward, program manager (center), and Logan Betts, STEM program coordinator (right).