Camp Fire Illinois Teaches Life Lessons, Leadership To Local Kids
The local chapter of the non-profit organization works with kids in Will and DuPage counties through after-school and summer day camps.
Camp Fire Illinois Prairie operates a local campsite that features a cabin on seven acres of wooded land to provide a unique learning environment for local kids.
Camp Fire Illinois Prairie operates a local campsite that features a cabin on seven acres of wooded land to provide a unique learning environment for local kids. (Photo courtesy of Celia Chretien )
BOLINGBROOK, IL —Celia Chretien admits that the first time she heard about Camp Fire Illinois Prairie, her mind went to a different place.
Unaware there was an organization that promotes healthy living and nature study to area kids, the Bolingbrook resident who is one of 10 volunteer board members for the local chapter of the national not-for-profit thought of the same thing that many might when they heard “campfire”.
“I had heard of roasting marshmallows and that kind of thing,” Chretien said recently.
Camp Fire was originally founded as a club for young girls who did not have the opportunity to participate in Scouts like boys. Now, more than 100 years later, local chapters like the one in Illinois offer young people the opportunity to get into nature to learn about themselves and learn valuable lessons in team-building and other values.
The Illinois chapter started in 1953 and the organization became co-ed in 1973 after being designed originally for young girls.
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But like with Chretien, one of the biggest obstacles is making people aware that the organization is offering kids the chance to learn in a unique environment. In Bolingbrook, that includes spending summer days at a cabin that is located on seven wooded acres at a campsite called Camp Kata Kani.
The organization also rents out the site to local groups for events, which helps provides funds to help the non-profit survive.
The Camp Fire program is a summer day camp where kids between the ages of 5-12 spend time outdoors participating in activities such as hiking and learning from local organizations about volunteering, safety, and serving the community.
This summer, Camp Fire Illinois has also partnered with NASA to host an ASTRO camp that teaches local kids from second grade to 10th grade about science, engineering, and mathematics to inspire future astronauts and engineers toward a future in working in that line of work.
While there are other day-camp options through local park districts and other groups, Camp Fire Illinois provides competitive registration rates for their summer program, which runs between mid-June and mid-August. Campers can register by the week, month, or for the entire summer, Chretien said.
The organization also collaborates with Valley View Schools for an after-school program that allows kids to remain at school and work on creative projects. Camp Fire Illinois partners with local schools like Lewis University to hire summer counselors for the summer day camp program that puts kids into a different environment than the one they are accustomed to.
“We try to get them away from the screen time a little bit,” Chretien said. “Once (the kids) are in there, they love it.”
Like other organizations, Camp Fire Illinois Prairie was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. With just one part-time staff member, the organization relies on volunteer board members like Chretien to spread the word about the opportunities that the organization provides to young people.
The group has worked with another non-profit to pack 15,000 bags of food that were sent to third-world countries. Kids have also made Valentine’s Day cards for local senior citizens and have completed other service projects that encourage them to think of others while understanding that they represent the future leaders of the community and beyond.
“The priority is to teach the kids,” Chretien said.