Cece Valceschini's long, wavy red hair is streaked with grey. But, as soon as she starts talking about Camp Fire, any signs of age melt away. With a radiant smile and a sparkle in her eyes, she explains the importance of building confidence and instilling the values of community, nature and service in children.
"That's the heart of Camp Fire," she says, "and why Camp Fire is still pertinent. Friendship, being connected, knowledge, and giving service; it's those core values that are timeless. Helping others is never going to get stale. And learning about yourself, you can't do enough of that. Learning about the outdoors; we're in it. Especially in our community."
The first thing she does when I arrive at the Camp Fire office is offer me a cup of tea, then she slides a tray of the club's signature "creamy smooth mint patties" across the table, not the Girl Scout cookies with the crispy thin mint center, but dark chocolate frisbees with creamy delicious peppermint filling. She tells me to take one for the road but not to forget it in the car, if they melt, it can make a big mess.
Clearly, Valceschini is a motherly figure and a Camp Fire expert. She was a Bluebird (the former name of Camp Fire's youngest groups) when she growing up in the Bay Area, and, 23 years ago, started working with the Central Oregon chapter as a volunteer when her daughter was in kindergarten. Now, she serves as Program Director for the Central Oregon chapter that stretches from Madras to Klamath Falls.
She explains that students fall into five age categories and meet weekly after school with a volunteer group leader to work toward patches, awards and achievements that revolve around service to the community. Currently, the after-school programs serve roughly 150 students, and Valceschini says the summer camps nearly always have a waiting list.
"Camp Fire is another feather in their cap," she explains. "When they're young adults going to apply to college or jobs this is something they can be really proud of."
Central Oregon's first Camp Fire chapter launched in 1916. The idea was—and is—to combine community service with building youth confidence and knowledge in five trails: creativity; family and community; knowing me; the environment; and the future. This diversity is important for kids, says Valceschini.
"Say kids play soccer and that's all, soccer, soccer, soccer. When they're doing soccer—I know this from being a soccer mom for a lot of years—it's really about skill sets, drill those skill sets in and play the games on the weekend. There's not a lot of relationship bonding and growth," explains Valceschini. "In Camp Fire, we want small groups of eight to 10 kids max with adult mentors. Relationships get bonded. My daughter is 27 and her best friends came out of her Camp Fire group. It's really strong connections that are made."
Since 1975, Camp Fire has offered programs for girls and boys. (At $38 per year per child for an hour and a half once a week after school group, it seems that Camp Fire might have forgotten to increase their rates since the program's launch 100 years ago.) Activities range according to group leader and meeting, but follow the same Camp Fire curriculum that's been successful for more than 100 years.
"Say this month's trail is creativity: we're going to do a skit and make some mobiles," explains Valceschini. "Trail to the outdoors might be hiking or learning about animals' habitats in winter. Camp Fire is a little bit of everything; well rounded, with community service blended in."
Camp Fire offers a double whammy of community service; an opportunity for adults to volunteer as group leaders and opportunities for youth to make a difference in their community. Valceschini explains that at this year's Camp Fire yearly luncheon, one woman told a story about her Camp Fire experience that solidifies the intention of the organization.
"She is 93 years old, and out of all the experiences in her life, she got tearful thinking about her Camp Fire experience," says Valceschini. "That little period of time, five or six or seven years meant so much that now she's at the end of her life at 93 years old and she could remember everything crystal clear including her lifelong friends that she met in Camp Fire. Those values are things that just don't get old no matter how things change in our lives."