This year, Camp Fire Minnesota welcomed a new Board of Directors Chair. Marie Becker is the Senior Vice President, Head of Consulting for the Americas at Mintel and has been a Camp Fire board member since May 2019. We recently sat down with her and Kori Redepenning, Camp Fire Minnesota’s President and CEO, to learn more about Marie, priorities for 2022, including what’s ahead in demonstrating Camp Fire‘s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I).
Tell us about yourself and how you and your family like to enjoy nature.
Marie: I am a mother of three active young boys. We have a lot of energy in our household. My husband, Tim, and I have found that when the kids (and dogs – we have two!) are outdoors we are having our best times as a family. I grew up spending a lot of time outside in northern Minnesota at our family cabin. At the time, it was very rustic — we were truly in the middle of the forest with no running water, and that’s where I developed a love for being in nature. These days, I spend lots of time on the screen for work, so getting outside gives me a sense a clarity. I find that my best ideas happen when I’m outside walking or running or just giving myself some space to breathe.
What drew you to join the board of directors?
Marie: It was a perfect alignment of stars. I had been craving more connection to the local community and wanted to give back to something that aligned with my passions. Someone brought up Camp Fire to me and its amazing mission. Turned out it was a reintroduction because I was in Camp Fire for years as a kid! And I went to Tanadoona for several summers (yes, I have a scrapbook), so it was a fast friendship coming back as a board member. I knew immediately this was a place that I could feel comfortable and want to add value.
Now my own boys go to camp. At first, we asked them, “Are you sure you’re ready?” And they replied, “We’re ready. We’re going to go make new friends.” I love that camp gives young people the opportunity to be independent, maybe for the first time. Whether it’s meeting a new friend, putting on your own sunscreen, or choosing what to buy at the camp store, it’s those little things that are powerful and help them understand how to make their own decisions in a supportive environment. Our boys love that they get to choose their own activities, which is the same thing that I loved. Because of this, they have developed a passion for archery that they were introduced to through Camp Fire!
Kori, what stood out about Marie to engage her as the organization’s new board chair?
Kori: What I appreciate about Marie’s leadership is her commitment to the organization’s work and her compassion, as well her understanding of how important it is for every young person to have impactful experiences in nature. Marie is extremely strategic and a great thought partner as we consider all the different ways to approach our work. She is also a learner — she has a constant openness to taking in new information and hearing where others are coming from. As we deepen our commitment to DE&I, I believe Marie will help create a space on the board where people are comfortable sharing. Hopefully it will make the experience even more accessible because we’re all still learning.
As you look ahead to 2022, what are some key organizational priorities?
Kori: One of the big goals for this year is our ongoing commitment to advancing our diversity, equity, and inclusion work. As a someone who identifies as a white queer woman, I can recognize both the experiences when I have been marginalized, but also the significant privilege that I have. Leading an organization with a predominantly white team while serving a racially diverse youth community, I can clearly see the work that we need to do now and moving forward.
As we continue that work, there’s a lot that we’re excited to dig into this year, both how it shows up programmatically and organizationally, and how our staff and board play a role. Marie and I are working to intentionally structure a space to learn and grow in our DE&I work as a board, including recognizing our own privilege, which I think is critical.
Marie: I agree, the value of inclusion is in Camp Fire’s DNA. We were founded on it over 100 years ago, but how we’re expressing our values is changing, both in terms of how we interact as a staff/board as well as how we visibly display our inclusionary practices in the spaces we’re creating across all our programs. We intend to carry forward that value wholeheartedly and adjust accordingly for what’s needed now in 2022 and in the future. Kori’s experience driving equity in an organization (MN Alliance With Youth) was central to the Board’s decision last spring to bring Kori on as the new President and CEO, and I’m humbled to work alongside Kori to best serve the young people in this community.
Kori: We’re seeing increased demand for the work that we do, which is phenomenal, but we must be more intentional about authentically engaging young people who have not yet experienced nature and work to create programming that aligns with their interests.
Marie: And now we have a year-round space for programming in our new Community & Dining Center to help us reach up to 10,000 youth each year. There’s just so much possibility of what we’re able to accomplish because we’re able to extend our period of impact beyond summer camp. Plus, there are so many different rental groups that can utilize our space — it’s so exciting that the revenue from those rentals feeds right back into programming.
With the committed focus throughout the organization on goal 1 of the strategic plan “Invest and integrate diversity, equity and inclusion throughout all aspects of Camp Fire Minnesota”… How are you seeing Camp Fire demonstrate its commitments to advancing equity throughout Camp Fire and advance inclusion work?
Kori: Intentional investment in our staff and property are key to moving this work forward. This past year, we formed the Equity Action Committee, which is made up of board and staff. As a committee, we’re working with an external consultant to create, implement, and publicly share an organizational Inclusion Plan. This provides a clear definition of what we mean when we say diversity, equity, and inclusion – and leads to shared accountability to our goals. Throughout our work, it’s important to have humility, because there’s individual work that we all need to do to learn and grow while acknowledging our privilege at the same time.
Staff throughout the organization are making programmatic changes in real time to make sure we’re living out our values — we’re not waiting until the inclusion plan is done. We want the youth we serve, partners, and families to see that we prioritize inclusive experiences as they engage with Camp Fire.
One example is that we’ve committed to offering gender-inclusive housing during summer camp. We know it aligns with our values and that young people want this option, so we’re making it happen this year — we weren’t going to wait on the decision (keep reading for more on all-gender cabins).
Another example is that we are creating staff and board member recruitment and retention strategies that align with our commitment to inclusion. For young people at camp and in our programs to feel welcome, they need to see staff and board members with shared identities. Our commitment to DE&I needs to be reflected in everything we do, especially the people who are driving the organization forward
Additionally, the new Community & Dining Center that opened in 2020 includes many elements aimed at providing more inclusive experiences for program participants and visitors. Some of these include all-gender bathrooms and showers, a wash basin for purification rituals before prayer, elevator, and acoustics design on both levels to support those who experience auditory sensitivities. And there’s more to do – we know that as proactive as we aim to be, being responsive to the ways we invest in the property to create safe, welcoming experiences is critical.
Marie: DE&I is integrated into every board meeting – it’s an intentional practice for us. We’re always learning, and I have personally spent time reflecting upon the notion of privilege, including my own, and the opportunity I have to lift up voices that have not been represented in our board/organization in the past – including those of young people. I recognize the responsibility I have to help create space on the board for sharing and listening to a diverse range of perspectives to inform our conversations and decision making.
This summer, Camp Fire is piloting an all-gender cabin option along with the girl and boy cabins for overnight camps. What does this mean to you?
Marie: We refer to this as our pilot summer, which is an indication of our willingness to test and learn. We are committed to delivering high value programming, and we are willing to evolve to make sure the experiences we’re creating at camp are inclusive and best-in-class. We are offering this option based on feedback we’ve received and our desire to ensure we are doing right by as many camp families as possible.
Kori: One of the things that I found so compelling was the Camp Fire National survey showing that young people and families across the country are asking for this option. It’s an opportunity for more young people to be able to come to camp and feel valued, seen, included, and welcome, which fundamentally shifts their relationship with nature. There’s also the added benefit of best friends or siblings of different genders being able to experience camp together. We’ve seen a positive response to the pilot firsthand — as of February, over 100 campers have chosen all-gender cabins as their first or second choice during registration.
Marie: When people arrive at our property, we want to them to immediately feel a sense of belonging. There are visible things we do at camp, like flying the Pride Flag during June, that help campers and their families know that this is a welcoming place. Regardless of how you identify, you are welcome here.
It’s common to hear that inclusion work is a journey of always learning – and unlearning. Marie, as a camper parent and/or leader within Camp Fire, do you have any personal reflections from your journey or resources that others may find helpful?
Marie: Learn to be okay saying “I don’t know.” It’s our responsibility to get comfortable being uncomfortable. That may mean finding ourselves in a conversation where we are not the expert.
There have been several conversations that my kids have brought to me in the last few years, especially during the last few election cycles and after George Floyd’s murder, that caught me off guard. I had to say to the kids, “I haven’t done this before. Let me think about it for a minute.” Oftentimes the kids are getting there faster than the parents, and the parents are trying to find the perfect answer. Sometimes it’s just more natural than that, and often there doesn’t need to be such hesitancy to have a real conversation. They push me to engage in new ways and it benefits the work I do as board member, as a professional, and as a mother.
We’re lucky there are so many books, podcasts, and articles that can help us have these conversations. We try to share our perspectives as well as those of others so the kids know there are many ways to think about the same topic.
• One is the webisode series called Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man by Emmanuel Acho. He’s written a children’s book too, called Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Boy. He has such a perfect way of explaining things.
• There’s also a bookstore called Brave + Kind Bookshop. It’s a curated set of books on all things DE&I. It’s mostly kids’ books, but they have some adult books too. It’s a helpful reference point; you can probably find many of the titles at the library.
There are so many resources that help speak to kids of all ages and are a valuable conversational launch point for adults. As a parent, I’ve found it helpful to leverage these resources, then follow my kids’ lead. Wherever you are on your journey, show up with vulnerability ready to learn and listen.