A Tumalo Day Camp volunteer helps guide campers in a compass activity.

Volunteer Camp Counselor Cryssi Traver helps campers with a compass activity at Tumalo Day Camp.

There’s a secret sauce to the success of Tumalo Day Camp (TDC), the beloved five-day camp that’s offered three times each summer by Camp Fire Central Oregon. It’s not just the fact that it takes place under the tall pines and alongside the sparkling Deschutes River at Tumalo State Park in Bend, Oregon. Nor that it offers youth ages PreK-Grade 7 a progression of immersive, outdoor camp experiences. Or the awesome reality that campers get to learn and engage in all kinds of thrills and skills: everything from nature hikes to crafts, games, singing, skits, overnight camping, cooking outside, building shelters, the “10 Essentials,” knot-tying, whittling, compass navigation, fire and outdoor safety, environmental conservation, kindness, trust, teamwork, leadership, personal empowerment, friendship…and so much more. 

Tumalo Day Camp is unique for another big reason: Except for a few Camp Fire Central Oregon staff, it’s run by a dedicated large group of volunteer camp counselors…and a few volunteer nurses who serve there as well. This summer alone, over 30 volunteers are pitching in to make camp happen, some serving for multiple sessions. And that volunteer spirit is the secret sauce to this incredible camp, which has been serving Central Oregon youth for over three decades.

“The vibe at Tumalo Day Camp has a unique flair and feel,” says Cece Valceschini, Tumalo Day Camp’s director. “Over time, we’ve had various volunteers who help because their family members are coming to camp and want to experience that with them. But there’s such a mix of folks.”

In addition, TDC welcomes volunteers interested in careers in leadership or childhood education—a super way to support those goals. Some volunteer camp counselors sign up because perhaps they’ve always wanted to come to camp themselves, and appreciate that it’s simultaneously a way to give back to our community. And other volunteers are alumni who went to either another Camp Fire affiliate growing up or attended Camp Fire Central Oregon as a youth and want to stay part of the amazing Camp Fire family.

A Tumalo Day Camp volunteer poses with her daughter, a camper.

Pictured here with her daughter, Layla: Cryssi Traver, one of over 30 volunteer camp counselors at Tumalo Day Camp 2024.

Cryssi Traver joined as a volunteer when her daughter, Layla, came as a 4th grader. Although Layla loved camp, she and a few other camper friends were initially a little apprehensive about the overnight camping aspect. So Layla, thinking her mom would be great with the other kids, asked her mom to join as a camp counselor.

“So I signed up…I went full in and did all three sessions, and this year I’m back here again,” Cryssi says, noting how rewarding her experience has been.

“Most of the time the kids come and don’t necessarily have a friend in the group (at first),” she says. “They go from not having one friend to being best friends on Day 2. And I love watching them come together as a team and learn new skills…from Day 1, they’re already just like a family.”

Cryssi says when she joined the volunteer crew, she had no camping background—just a little RV camping know-how. But she embraced TDC enthusiastically, full-on diving into her role, helping kids put their tents up, cooking over the fire, and guiding them in countless other activities.

“I love having them unplugged, and, believe it or not, they don’t get bored!” she says. “We make fun with everything (we do), whether playing in the water, whittling sticks….they really enjoy playing games, and I just really love seeing them outside and unplugged.”  

Cheryl McCoy camp nurse puts a band-aid on a camper.

Cheryl McCoy has served as a Tumalo Day Camp nurse since 2014.

Another volunteer, Cheryl McCoy, has been serving at Tumalo Day Camp as a camp nurse since 2014, putting Band-Aids on boo-boos, tending to the occasional bee sting, and comforting kids who may need a little emotional support, perhaps feeling a little homesick for the day. But Cheryl’s experience extends far beyond those more recent years, given she first came to Camp Fire Central Oregon as a camper at age 10.

“My mom was a group leader, and we met in our house, and my sister and I were both in the little troop,” she says, noting that her parents also engaged in the Camp Fire culture, joining the organization's board back in 1960. From that time, she was almost always involved in Camp Fire Central Oregon in some capacity, earning her Wo-He-Lo recognition in 1967, serving later as a camp counselor at a former away-camp (Snow Creek) and at afterschool camp programs over the years. She then joined as the camp nurse, the same year her granddaughter started coming to camp.

She’s a CIT and will probably be a camp counselor next year, so we’ve been involved with Camp Fire for a lot of years!” Cheryl says.

Having seen Camp Fire evolve over decades, what does Cheryl love about Camp Fire today?

“Teaching outdoor skills that kids don’t get anymore—and the community,” she says. In addition, “I’ve always loved little kids…and it’s fun to put Band-Aids on them…comfort them…I’ve raised a lot of kids!”

Tumalo Day Camp's nurse holds down her post at camp.

Cheryl McCoy has been a part of the Camp Fire Central Oregon family since she was 10 years old.

“Not just Cheryl and Cryssi, but everyone who volunteers does so with great heart—and sometimes real courage, learning how to ‘do camp’ as adults,” says Camp Fire Central Oregon Executive Director Kecia Kubota, reflecting on the hundreds who’ve served over time. That volunteer heart sparks their bravery, creativity, care and commitment, resulting in truly invested and often longtime, loyal camp counselors. This also brings a unique approach to how they undertake every aspect of their roles and responsibilities.

“It’s hard to fully describe how this camp feels, but you know it’s special when you experience it and watch these volunteers in action,” she says. “They often discover that volunteering in this capacity is a ‘spark’ for them…a passion that grows over time to better the lives of kids and others, not just at Tumalo Day Camp but throughout Central Oregon and beyond.”